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Health officer seeks probe of coal dust, train impacts

Dr. Paul Van Buynder is the chief medical health officer for the Fraser Health Authority. - File
Dr. Paul Van Buynder is the chief medical health officer for the Fraser Health Authority.
— image credit: File

Fraser Health's chief medical health officer says he's "concerned" about potential health impacts from a proposed new coal export terminal in Surrey.

In a statement issued May 30, Dr. Paul Van Buynder recommended a comprehensive health impact assessment be undertaken for the project examining the risks from the potential inhalation of coal dust as well as other impacts.

He said the assessment should also examine potential contamination of air and land – including the food production impacts and possible shellfish contamination – as well as likely impacts from excessive noise and whether increased rail traffic will reduce access to emergency care for some residents.

"At this point I am neither in favour nor opposed to the project," Van Buynder said.

"I am simply asking that we put on a health lens and ensure steps are taken to safeguard the people who live along the proposed route and our communities in general."

The Fraser Health and Vancouver Coastal medical health officers had last December called for a formal voice in Port Metro Vancouver expansion plans in response to concerns about coal exports.

But Van Buynder's latest statement goes further than the earlier one, saying "meaningful community consultation will be a criticial component of the acceptability of the health impact assessment."

Port Metro Vancouver CEO Robin Silvester did not directly answer when asked if the port will support a health impact assessment.

"What we want to do is set up the right sort of dialogue, separate from the project process, because those are broader questions, to have a c

onversation with the health officers about how to best answer those questions," Silvester said.

He said he met with both chief medical health officers Monday to discuss their concerns.

Silvester said they were unable to provide him any evidence that existing coal shipments pose any significant health risk to residents, nor has such evidence been heard through the review process.

Port authority officials have previously said environmental reviews conducted as part of the proposal already address health concerns.

Coal trains already roll through various rail lines in the

region.

Some also take the BNSF rail line to Westshore Terminals open-air coal terminal at Deltaport, where more than 23 million tonnes was handled last year.

Coal is also hauled to North Vancouver to Neptune Terminals, which the port authority recently approved an expansion.

Smaller amounts of coal have also been shipped for Teck Resources out of Port Moody's Pacific Coast Terminals over the past two years.

Port Metro Vancouver president and CEO Robin SIlvester.

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