Anti-coal protest warns of health impacts

Cover story published in 24 Hours Vancouver | October 27, 2013 | Circulation: 280,000+

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A Surrey pediatrician was one of 200 people who protested in New Westminster Sunday, concerned about the health impacts of a proposed coal terminal.

Dr. Pargat Bhurji told the anti-coal crowd that asthma and black lung were real concerns associated with the Fraser Surrey Docks proposal.

“Coal dust is very dangerous,” Bhurji said. “Over time, there is a cumulative effect.

“For our kids, the risk of asthma doubles or triples … Why, for only just a few jobs, do we want to escalate health-care costs, to put our beautiful children through asthma?”

If approved, an annual four to eight million metric tonnes of U.S. coal would come through the terminal.

Amidst mounting concern over climate impacts and coal dust pollution — including calls by Fraser Health’s chief medical officer for a comprehensive health assessment — Port Metro Vancouver put a pause on its review process in September. The port agency has demanded FSD boost its environmental standards, including reducing “dust migration” from rail cars and barges, preventing a coal stockpile, and involving regional health authorities in an environmental impact assessment.

“A project permit will not be issued by the port until all technical reviews and any required municipal, First Nations, and community consultation are complete,” PMV said in an e-mailed statement. “We are confident that this type of independent and transparent study will ensure a greater level of transparency and move the debate from purely speculative to very objective.”

New Westminster city councillor Jaimie McEvoy, chair of the city’s environmental advisory committee, told the crowd that exporting coal would harm local health and “export health problems” overseas as well, and would continue facing municipal opposition.

“My grandfather was a coal miner, and he spent two years in bed from coal asthma, and lost most of what he earned as a coal miner because of it,” he said. “Don’t ever let anyone tell you that coal doesn’t have a health effect, that it has a special chemical treatment that makes it better, because that’s a lie and it doesn’t.”

Burnaby-New Westminster MP Peter Julian said PMV is “acting and showing disrespect for the residents of this area,” but that it was part of a federal pattern around environmental assessments.

“As citizens, we are … saying to Port Metro Vancouver — and to the boss of PMV, ultimately Stephen Harper in Ottawa — start listening to the public, start consultation with us, do not ram through these projects over our objections.”

In an earlier interview, FSD boss Jeff Scott said the firm has spent much time improving “dust control and mitigation factors and is “confident” its application will succeed.

“We want to have it safe and efficient,” he said. “We don’t want to have any additional exposure to any of our stakeholders.

“Can we mitigate any impact to the local stakeholders, our neighbours, and the residents that live around (us)? That’s always our first priority.”

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