Letters to the Editor

Time for a health assessment on coal trains

Coal trains go through Langley daily, and there has been no health impact assessment on their effect on people. Reader Steven Faraher-Amidon believes such an assessment would be warranted.  - Dan Ferguson/Langley Times
Coal trains go through Langley daily, and there has been no health impact assessment on their effect on people. Reader Steven Faraher-Amidon believes such an assessment would be warranted.
— image credit: Dan Ferguson/Langley Times

Editor: With respect to The Times article (April 22) “New rail overpasses not enough, Township report warns,” it is incumbent on all of us to be aware of several aspects of this issue.

1 - The general cost of overpasses is approximately $10 million, if no exits are involved. They are closer to $40 million with exits.

2 - Langley already has, as everyone knows, a lot of trains.  (Editor’s note— About 14 to 16 per day).

3 -  The proposal by Port Metro Vancouver re the Roberts Bank Terminal 2 project may double the number of trains, according to the article.

4 - Additionally, the trains already coming through Langley include a considerable number of coal trains, coming from the interior, carrying metallurgical (steel-making) coal.

5 - A proposal to bring U.S. thermal coal into our region to Fraser Surrey Docks is being considered by Port Metro Vancouver, which refuses to hold full public hearings or to conduct a full health impact assessment (HIA), supported by our regional health officers (Dr. Paul Van Buynder and Dr. Patricia Daly, and Dr. Perry Kendall).

6 - The most recent study on the same coal and trains which would come to Fraser Surrey Docks, over the health risks of thermal coal, was done in the U.S. (Professor Dan Jaffee, University of Washington) and it suggests that air quality and health implications of diesel and coal dust are potentially substantial, with no level considered acceptable, according to our medical health officers at Fraser and Vancouver health. See http://www.king5.com/news/environment/coal-trains-air-quality-study--230491511.html

7 - The issue is not about the importance of coal to our economy, even though actual jobs created from container or coal trains are quite small in number. Don’t we owe it to the communities and the health of their school children to at least have a proper HIA, before we approve more coal or container trains coming through the region?

Currently Fraser Surrey Docks is awaiting a decision by Port Metro Vancouver which will likely say yes. The docks want to ship U.S. thermal coal (for electricity in Asia, not the same as Canadian metallurgical coal for steel). While jobs at the docks are good ones, the proposal would result in about 15 jobs.

U.S. laws require a full two- to three-year environmental review process for such proposals. We have no such laws here in Canada. The current federal government gutted them.  Three U.S. coal export proposals along the U.S. Pacific Coast are currently awaiting this review. The closest just south of Blaine would see shipment of 49 million tons of coal per year, making it the largest in North America.

Langley City council, several months ago, showed leadership in joining eight other local municipalities and six school boards, in supporting a call for the full HIA. Port Metro Vancouver and Fraser Surrey docks have been reluctant to engage, fearing the results. They conducted an  environmental review  in November which was roundly criticized by our health officers for failing  to properly assess health implications.

It strikes me that, for health let alone future environmental concerns, we at least should support such a full and independent assessment, which by law would have to be paid by the proponent before the coal shipment proposal goes ahead.

I know there will be many crying NIMBY and saying why do we need to support such an assessment, when we have not had one before? Plus, why should what happens in Fraser Surrey docks be of concern to us here?

Well, that is the same sort of argument which the tobacco industry used in the 1960s. There are 100 Surrey, Delta, Burnaby, Richmond and New Westminster schools within the five to seven-kilometre range of the coal dust and diesel particulates. And there are approximately 30 schools within this range of the tracks in Langley.

As a parent, would it not be at least helpful to have an idea of what an assessment, albeit re Fraser Surrey Docks, suggests about health implications of coal trains? Our Langley council certainly thinks so.

How about MP Mark Warawa and our school board, which, so far, thinks the effect of coal dust and diesel particulates to not be of significant consequence for the health of school children to support the call for a full HIA? As a parent, I know I have lots of questions and, so far, not very many answers — which is why I support a full HIA before this decision is made.

We have many coal trains coming through here,  would we not benefit from knowing what an HIA says about health impacts (within 5-7 kms) of coal trains?

The sooner the better. All of us, kids and adults alike, deserve a proper health assessment before they go ahead with this, and our medical health professionals agree.

Steven Faraher-Amidon,


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