A UBC professor from the Institute for Heart and Lung Health says traffic-related air pollution from the 216 Street Interchange poses a “real threat” to the health of the community.

Air pollution chief concern for 216 Street Interchange opponents

Newly released Ministry report finds project 'not expected to result in significant air quality impacts'

A UBC professor from the Institute for Heart and Lung Health has weighed in on the 216 Street Interchange, calling it a “real threat” to the health of the community.

Dr. Chris Carlsten, who holds multiple titles and qualifications, including the Astra-Zeneca endowed chair, Canada research chair in occupational and environmental lung disease and staff respirologist and director of occupational lung disease Clinic at Vancouver General Hospital, has written an official letter of opposition.

The project, which calls for a new Highway 1 interchange at 216 Street, has been debated numerous times over the last few months, with many residents, particularly in the Walnut Grove area, publicly speaking against the northern truck-route exit.

In his letter, Carlsten says that he has dedicated his professional life to health concerns associated with traffic-related air pollution, and has more than 100 related publications.

“I do not live near Langley. However, I feel that the Langley residents concerned about the proposed new interchange are facing a similar issue as those throughout Metro Vancouver and indeed throughout Canada and beyond,” he told the Times.

Carlsten listed several concerns with the project, including the overall increase in traffic on the north side of the freeway, from an estimated 4,200 vehicles to 22,000 vehicles per day; increased air pollution exposure to children at école des Voyageurs and Topham Elementary schools; the lack of buffer zones between the interchange, residents and schools; and noise walls not being an effective block to pollution.

“The increased exposures can be predicted to infer a significantly increased risk of new asthma, allergy, low birth weight babies, heart disease and other substantial health concerns, including worsening of pre-existing disease in nearby residents,” he stated in his opposition letter.

“My biggest concern,” he told the Times, “is that the new interchange will increase truck traffic in close proximity to schools, because the evidence has become so clear that proximity to traffic is detrimental to children’s health.”

Carlsten also questions whether a proper health impact assessment (HIA) was performed, prior to the interchange getting underway.

“I understand that all such decisions operate in a complex framework of multiple stakeholders, costs and benefits,” he said.

“To be fair, I do not understand all of these competing interests in this framework. But I was compelled to add my perspective to the issue because it was not clear to me that the health concerns were carefully assessed. I am fairly certain that no formal health impact assessment was performed.

“An HIA is really the standard for such civil projects, and I think having one (before deciding to proceed) would be the appropriate process for all concerned.”

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This portion of country road where 82 Avenue curves into 216 Street will soon become a four-lane interchange onto Highway 1. Photo by Miranda Gathercole.

Project A ‘Hot Potato’

The project was originally brought to Carlsten’s attention by Langley resident Linda Nash, who has been vocal in her opposition.

Nash has lived in Walnut Grove for 27 years. She says she learned about the interchange in April, and was mostly concerned about the noise factor. However, after doing her own research, she now believes that “216 without a buffer zone would create a cesspool of toxins.”

“As I did more research I found that the internet was full of information and studies regarding noise and air pollution,” she said.

“The health facts were overwhelming. I also found out that the projected vehicle use of 216 (Street) north would change from (4,200) vehicles per day to 22,000. Fifteen-thousand vehicles is considered heavy traffic. I learned that Health Canada guidelines are for a 500 ft. buffer zone minimum, and larger when there is truck traffic.”

This led Nash to contact the David Suzuki Foundation, which she says supports her cause. A representative told her the project is a “hot potato,” meaning that neither the Township nor the province “want to deal with the health concerns.”

“I welcome development. It is a necessary part of our society. However, it is a question of balance,” Nash said.

“Sustainable development is about meeting the needs of today without compromising the needs of future generations. It is about improving the standard of living by protecting human health, conserving the environment, using resources efficiently and advancing long-term economic competitiveness.”

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Aerial shot of where the 216 Street Interchange will be constructed. Photo from Google Maps.

Consultant Reviews Air Pollution Concerns

According to the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure (MOTI), the interchange received its certificate of compliance from the environmental assessment office nearly 10 years ago as part of the Port Mann Highway 1 Improvement Project. The interchange was originally planned to be part of that construction.

“Certainly the environmental impacts were absolutely considered at that time,” said Janelle Erwin, MOTI deputy regional director.

“Further to that, the ministry recognizes that people have raised some questions around that, so we’ve actually brought on a consultant to take another look at it.

Trinity Consultants completed an additional environmental study last month, Erwin said. Those findings were posted on the project’s public engagement website today (Jan. 24), and conclude that “the proposed Highway 1 and 216th Street interchange is not expected to result in significant air quality impacts due to near‐roadway proximity.”

When asked about the project being described as a “hot potato,” Erwin replied, “It’s a partnership between ourselves (the MOTI), the federal government and the Township of Langley. And if you looked at our engagement website on this project you’ll see that … the Township of Langley is actually going to be doing more … noise mitigation measures on Township roads as a result of what they heard during public engagement, or what the ministry heard and shared with the Township,” she said.

“We recognize that an interchange is a change for a neighbourhood, but certainly we’re making sure that there are measures in place as a result of that change.”

Township Mayor Jack Froese added that air pollution concerns fall under the responsibility umbrella of Metro Vancouver.

“It’s not that we’re ignoring it, that doesn’t make sense. But there are other organizations where that’s their mandate to look after it,” he said.

Froese noted that creating a new north-south connection between Walnut Grove and Willoughby will also help alleviate some of the traffic pressures currently experienced on 200 Street and 208 Street.

“If you look at the total Walnut Grove area, there’s the talk of 22,000 extra cars. I don’t know where they’re coming from myself, because what’s happening is you’re dispersing the traffic so there’s less traffic on 208 (Street) because some will use 216 (Street). There will be less traffic on 88 (Avenue) because some are going to use 80 (Avenue),” he said.

“We have to balance the needs of the community, and the cars are not going away.”

The same rationale has been used by the BC Trucking Association, which has also been lobbying the MOTI to make the entire stretch of 216 Street from Highway 1 to 96 Avenue a truck route. Currently, only 88 Avenue north to 96 Avenue is a designated route.

“The new interchange and highway widening project will improve connectivity in Langley north and south of Highway 1 and will provide much needed alternatives to the 200 Street and 232 Street interchanges, thus helping to alleviate congestion, particularly on 200 Street,” wrote Greg Kolesniak, BC Trucking Association director of policy, in a letter to the MOTI in April.

“We also support the proposed design for the new interchange, and more specifically plans to construct a full movement, four-lane interchange that includes left-turn bays to provide access eastbound and westbound onto Highway 1, with grades and turn radii that accommodate heavy commercial vehicles.”