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White Rock air-quality tests ‘likely to ease rail concerns’

An air-quality monitoring station is to be set up along White Rock
An air-quality monitoring station is to be set up along White Rock's waterfront in the coming months, to help determine what impact, if any, coal dust is having on the city's air quality.
— image credit: File

White Rock residents concerned about the impact of coal dust and diesel emissions on air quality will have greater insight into the issue this summer.

Coun. Grant Meyer, chair of the city’s newly formed rail-safety task force, announced last month that an air-quality monitoring station will be used to get a better sense of the situation.

“We’ll be able to confirm or not any potential air-quality issues with coal trains and diesel,” Meyer told council.

Greg St. Louis, the city’s director of engineering and municipal operations, told task force members at their inaugural meeting Jan. 23 that Metro Vancouver has agreed to bring a mobile air-quality unit to the seaside city in the coming months.

Concerns over potential health impacts of coal dust have been top of mind for officials and residents for more than a year, since Fraser Surrey Docks announced plans to build a new direct-transfer facility. If approved, the $15-million project is anticipated to significantly increase the number of coal trains travelling through White Rock, South Surrey and Delta.

While a Port Metro Vancouver environmental-impact assessment concluded the proposed terminal won’t harm health or the environment, the report has been criticized for relying on outdated studies. In December, St. Louis told council it lacked “any useful information” on the impacts of transporting coal in White Rock.

Task force members – Couns. Larry Robinson, Al Campbell and Meyer – said they are not convinced coal dust is as big of an issue as some believe.

Campbell, who lives near the waterfront, said while his deck gets “quite dirty,” it is largely from saltwater and “muck.”

It is “no dirtier due to more trains,” he said.

St. Louis noted the city had two samples of suspected coal dust that were brought in by residents lab-tested. While one contained “very, very” minimal traces, both were deemed to not contain the contaminant.

“The conclusion was there was no coal dust in either,” he said.

Meyer said the air-quality units will go a long way to “either confirm what people are thinking or put their minds at ease.”

Whistle-stop?

Meanwhile, Meyer is hoping citizens will add their voice to the ongoing conversation around train whistles and speak out regarding whether they want the city to spend $1.8 million to keep that noise to a minimum.

The amount was determined by a consultant hired to review the city’s six pedestrian rail crossings and assess the cost of steps necessary to maintain the city’s overnight whistle-cessation policy.

“That a lot of money for a city our size,” he said, adding he wants to know “if (citizens) think it’s worth it or not.”

“I really hope the public starts to come forward with emails and calls and questions and thoughts.”

 

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