Coal is transferred from trains to waiting ships at Westshore Terminals in Delta. A new coal export terminal is proposed in Surrey by Fraser Surrey Docks.

Health officer wields some power over new coal terminal

Changes could be forced on Fraser Surrey Docks if coal dust worse than projected, Van Buynder says

Fraser Health’s chief medical health officer says he could use his legal powers to force a proposed new coal terminal at Fraser Surrey Docks to keep its promises to protect residents from coal dust.

Dr. Paul Van Buynder wants Port Metro Vancouver – which could soon approve the new terminal – to first agree to a full health impact assessment he says may delay construction by six to 12 months.

“I can’t stop the approval,” Van Buynder said in an interview. “But if I demonstrate that there is a health risk, then I have powers under the Public Health Act to force them to mitigate that.”

He’s used the legislation twice in the last year to force a Port Coquitlam herbal remedy maker to retract misleading advertising and to impose water chlorination in Chilliwack.

In the case of the Surrey coal terminal, he says a permit approval should require ongoing testing near homes and schools for coal dust and other particulate.

If actual levels turn out to be higher than projected in computer models, he said, coal shipments would stop until changes are made to cut emissions to acceptable levels.

He argues that provision plus the health impact assessment should be backed by the port and terminal because it would reassure residents.

The coal industry “may well be correct” that coal poses no health risk, he said, but that gives no comfort to the public.

“I don’t know if there is a health risk,” Van Buynder said. “What I’m saying is we want more information before we sign off.”

The new terminal would initially handle four million tonnes of coal a year, less than 10 per cent of the port’s current coal-handling capacity.

Van Buynder acknowledged coal has been shipped through Metro Vancouver for four decades, but said it’s a first at Fraser Surrey Docks, which is closer to homes than Westshore Terminals at Deltaport.

Besides the terminal, there are concerns about dust from trains and from the open barges sailing on the Fraser River.

Fraser Surrey Docks has indicated it could stockpile coal in a two-acre area on a limited basis for up to eight days a year, Van Buynder noted.

He said there have been local problems with coal dust – a freak wind blew dust airborne at Westhore last year prompting the firm to spend $8.5 million on better dust suppression.

Train concerns to be considered in the health assessment include not just escaping coal dust but diesel fumes and blocked emergency access to cut-off neighbourhoods.

Van Buynder said “amenity” or lifestyle impacts should also be part of a full look at the risks and benefits.

“If you buy yourself a nice place on the water in White Rock then you have some expectation about what that means and whether or not you’re going to see lots of noise and coal dust and all of the rest of it.”

However, Van Buynder said it’s likely his legal powers are limited to health risks directly linked to coal, and don’t extend to general train traffic issues.

He said he’s not aware of any local testing of coal dust impacts from trains.

In 1998, an environmental health officer with the local health unit concluded it was “unlikely” South Delta residents faced any health risks from Westshore coal dust.

Coal Alliance spokesman Alan Fryer maintains the industry is safe and highly regulated by eight different agencies.

“A lot of people are reacting as if this is something new,” he said. “We’ve been doing it safely and responsibly and we’ve been getting better and better at it.”

Transport Canada classifies coal as non-toxic and not a dangerous good.

The Coal Alliance is urging Metro Vancouver directors to reject a motion opposing new coal exports at a public meeting on the issue slated for Friday.

While coal dust has been raised as a local issue, many climate change activists aim to block the burning of more U.S. coal to rein in carbon emissions.

Port Metro Vancouver planning director Jim Crandles said he wants to know if medical health officers have a specific health concern they think should trigger a health impact assessment or if they want it done based on public sentiment alone.

Just Posted

Semiahmoo advances to B.C. peewee hockey final against Burnaby Winter Club

Ravens to square off against only team to defeat them during provincial tournament

Surrey RCMP hunt for robbery suspect after woman threatened while using ATM

Police say a man demanded a woman withdraw money from her account while threatening her with a weapon

SOCCER: A Surrey coach recalls Alphonso Davies’ rise, days after his first goal for Bayern Munich

Injury may prevent the budding star, 18, from playing for Team Canada in Vancouver on Sunday

Tory MPs chant ‘cover up’ during federal budget delivery

Liberal government’s fourth budget delivered in House of Commons Tuesday, but nobody could hear it

Former South Surrey boxer relishing role on Riverdale

Peninsula resident Darcy Hinds has recurring role on popular CW series

VIDEO: Can you believe it? This B.C. hill pulls cars backwards up a slope

Sir Isaac Newton had clearly never been to this Vernon anomaly when he discovered gravity

Canucks hang on for 7-4 win over Senators

Horvat nets 2 for Vancouver

European, Canadian regulators to do own review of Boeing jet

Air Canada plans to remove the Boeing 737 Max from its schedule at least through July 1

Prime minister defends Liberal budget measures as sales effort gets underway

Conservatives under Andrew Scheer say it’s a spree funded by borrowing against the future

Mayor meets with B.C. health minister on homeless taxi transfers

Two homeless people were discharged from Surrey Memorial and sent to a Chilliwack shelter

Teacher reprimanded for conduct towards special needs student

Alan Stephen Berry told vice principal he did not have time to use positive strategies

‘Full worm super moon’ to illuminate B.C. skies on first day of spring

Spring has sprung, a moon named in honour of thawing soil marks final super moon until 2020

Having phone within sight while driving does not violate law: B.C. judge

The mere presence of a cell phone within sight of a driver is not enough for a conviction, judge says

Fraser Health under fire again for taxiing homeless man from Langley to Hope

Patient sent to Hope shelter because a spot in the man’s home community couldn’t be located

Most Read

l -->