Transcript from Doctors on Jim Harrison Show June 25, 2013

Posted by Stop Ajax Mine on July 16th, 2013 7:02pm

We created a transcript of this excellent interview with Dr. Twila Burgmann and Dr. Jill Calder on the Jim Harrison show on June 25, 2013.    

Jim:  There's a  new website & its intent is to provide a healthy environment in Kamloops.  It's Kamloops Physicians for a Healthy Environment & to discuss this a bit more we are pleased to welcome into our studio Drs.: Twila Burgmann & Dr. Jill Calder.

Now why the website first of all?  I guess that is sort of the general & obvious  question. 

Drs.:  I think the reason why we decided we needed to go with the website is our main purpose is to try & educate the people of Kamloops & our friends & families, about what the potential health effects of this mine is & that there might be some concerns

Jim:  That answers one of the other questions, that it is not just a general website on general  environmental health, but its really keyed in & focused on the proposed mine?

Drs.: You have to realize that, yes, the mine was one of the reasons our group formed, but doctors have always been involved in the health issues in Kamloops-- the railway tie issue, the water purification isssue-- we've had quite a few challenges recently because of that we felt we just had to form more formally. We don't plan on disbanding after the mine, but it was just the mine was  the stimulous to form the group, so, no, I don't think we are specifically targeted at Ajax, but at this point they are obviously the biggest issue facing our community 

Jim:  So Jill, how many doctors, or Kamloops physicians are part of this – is it 10% of the doctors in the community, is it 50, is it 100%?

Drs.:  We have 60 physicians, over 60, that are really giving us their support & we have about 200 doctors on staff, so I guess we are about one quarter to a third coming up & people keep joining up in a gradual way  once they get their own education done & see our webpage.

Jim:  So how does this come together-- Doctors, they are individuals, they operate in independently of one another, so how did you get them altogether in one room & say 'hey, we want to get on board with this' ?

Drs.:  We have a quarterly staff meeting, & I guess I was the one that  stood up & I actually didn't know much about mining at all until Dr. Brian Moench came to town because of the Kamloops Moms for Clean Air & I was shocked & a bit scared by some of the information he gave us, & I thought if I am just learning this I am pretty sure the average person in Kamloops hasn't heard of this either, & I just talked to the physicians one day & said maybe we should look more into this.

Jim:  What's the degree of concern, we have heard some talk & I don't know how much validity there is, that some doctors will move away if this mine actually comes to be?

Drs.:   I would say the concern is quite high.  The purpose of our group isn't to talk about doctors coming or staying. The focus of our group  really is to educate the people of Kamloops about the possible health effects the average family – because its not something you think about every day – so that's the main purpose of our group, rather than focusing on whether physicians come or go.

Jim:  We will get into the details of what those concerns are in a second, but Jill, obviously the feeling out there is that there is not enough information – we are not talking about the negative impact enough, but this has been dominating news in the media since the proposal was first tabled – what hasn't been discussed that needs to be  discussed at this point?

Drs.:  I think the health impacts are missing from the discussion to this point, & I think the EAO process is somewhat biased to the proponent so that we are unable to see what they are working with, what their data is, what the modelling is, until well into the process & once they do the application the public has 75 days or so, & the BCEAO itself has 180 days to make a levelled response at paper work that might be 8 to 12 feet high – so to know that we have the capacity to respond that fast is a challenge.  The other thing is that, on the Community Advisory Group, there were very few physicians representing that, & I think the health issues are so incredible & compelling that we need to be able to get that out there.  I think the problem is that, yes, there is a lot of talk but there really is no action in terms of actually looking at these health effects or assessing what they could be in a proper studied way, so yes we are talking about it but nothing is happening. I think that's  the frustration.

Jim:  Its probably  answered one of my other questions – that is, every time you hear some criticism you hear others saying well, why not wait until this joint revue panel has completed its work & we find out what they have discovered, & then get into real genuine debate.

Drs.:  The problem is that we don't have time for that debate – once the application is received & approved by the environmental office, the public only has 75 days to actually make a proper response to 8 to 12 feet of paper – that's a lot!  By the time someone like you gets some of that information out to have a discussion, we might already have a decision on the mine.  The other issue is expertise, & so both the BCEAO & Interior Health, that was to help with the health impact,has stated that they are under-manned, & in some ways, for this size of project -- its an enormous project – the biggest one so close to an urban population, certainly in Canada, certainly in BC, we are not sure about the world, but it is a very large open pit mine within a thousand metres of the nearest house & a school, & its unprecedented for them to have to make this type of analysis in such a short time, & the expertise to do so is not something they have on hand.  They would need to actually look very carefully for potentially higher specific expertise. Their operational budget is already maximized out doing their day to day work. The health officers have done a great job but they don't have the – this is off the side of their desk -- this is not their main job & not the reason why they are here.  

Jim:  We talked earlier that you heard some of the information when an expert from afar came to Kamloops to outline what the dangers & the hazards are.  What particular emissions, pollutions, are you most concerned about?

Drs.  I think the biggest thing we are worried about is what is actually going to be blasted out of the pit & made airborne—what is it we are going to be breathing from that ore that is going to affect our health.  And specifically, when you read about air pollution, its all about particle size, so the thing people have to realize is that we are not only just worried about Aberdeen – a lot of the toxic small particles that affect health are going to settle out in the valley bottom, & that is not just down town, that's going to be Dallas, Valleyview, & its worrisome, its going to affect all of Kamloops – you can't just assume that because you live in Westsyde this isn't going to affect you.

Jim:  What are those particles made up of, in your view what kind of harmful elements will there be in these particles ?

Drs.:  There's a lot of different components to it – we're obviously worried about the heavy metals, but heavy metals are just what attach, that is what makes the particles even worse. But even the particles themselves – I can't remember all their chemical  structures right now, but I have been reading about them, but we definitely know that they have different particles that have different health affects.

Jim:  I was speaking several months back with a former geologist, the chief geologist I think, for  the  Old Afton mine, & I think he has some expertise in this area as well, & he said to me “well, there is a reason they are called heavy metals, its because they are too heavy to  suspend in the atmosphere & so all of this fear about suspended particulate matter  with heavy metals just doesn't wash”.  What do you say to that Jill?

Drs.:  We've learned, because I was as underinformed as anyone earlier in February & March, & I have done a lot of homework in this, & its not that the heavy metals are 'heavy', the heavy metals are 'heavy' in that ministry chart – they attach to the P.M.2.5, they are the smaller particles & those are almost aerosolized, they can travel quite far. They actually form layers & you can see these layers in Kamloops right now, where the heavier particles will come out,  P.M.10's closer to the site. PM 2.5's are almost launched & they can travel almost like a sea on top of the heavier particles for  longer distances & they are breathed into your lungs & actually have the ability to go through the lungs to the bloodstream & then circulate – so they are the ones we are concerned about for cancer risk & things like that.  But the other thing you have to realize is heavy metals never go away, so the thing about the mine is we may have 23 years of economic benefit, but we might be paying for this mine in the terms of our health for generations.  Heavy metals do not degrade, they are not combustible, & once they get into the soil they are there & that would be one of the examples in terms of a toxic element that just doesn't go away & they have proven it – when your child's out playing in their sandbox you can get a toxic exposure -- & we're not quite sure what's in—what heavy metals to be worried about because the core samples composition has not been released – so we know that most mines, most copper-gold mine combinations, produce huge amounts of arsenic, cadmium, chromium, & all sorts of other heavy metals that we need to  know what's in the ore to know whether those will be aerosolized. 

Jim:  Is the difficulty you have with the mine, each of you, its proximity or the mine, itself, period—that it might not be safe anywhere?

Drs.:  We are not against mining, I am not against open pit mining at all but its definitely the size of this mine, the location of this mine, its  specifically the fact that our prevailing winds come, blow,  right over the mine site right into Kamloops.  We are a windy place. We are going to  have these dry tailing  piles & waste rock piles, its going to blow right into Kamloops which, when you look at things like the Unimum Mine which is in Ontario – they are having a terrible time with the dust pollution there & they can't control it, & there is a recent report in February 2013 by an air scientist that had to be especially hired to say the people around those Unimum mine sites in Ontario are having exposures that are occupational exposures, to that level, to the point where they actually said its possible, like being in the vicinity of a forest fire, so its temporary – it comes & goes obviously – but that's quite a lot of pollution to have  to deal with, & that's a new mine, they are struggling with it & they have tried various methods to try to mitigate the dust & nothing is working.

Jim:  So there's been no real advances – medicine continues  advances, you have always got better ways & quicker more efficient ways to do things – is there no advances in science that will mitigate these kind of impacts in mining?

Drs.:  Well the thing to know about Unimim, is its only two years old & they haven't met their particle target for the last two years, & their health officers are putting out fairly continual air quality announcements to their population, & Unimim is using modern mitigation techniques.  Unimim waters, Unimim actually splices in buckwheat into the tailings to try & keep the particles adhereed to the pile, they have a much wetter climate than we do, they have less wind than we do, & the siting of their mine is not as close to the population, so they are having trouble & I'm using that as a modern example of modern mitigation techniques that are not working.  We are concerned about our water -- if we are going to be using water as a mitigation technique , we live in a dry place, we have water tables that are precious & we really have to be careful & scrutinize this project as to whether their mitigation techniques they are proposing, will actually work.

Jim:  After the past month or so I'm not sure abut the dry place.

Drs.:  Our water tables would argue that we have highs & lows, & right now the weather every where in the world is actually challenging to predict –everyone is saying how the tornado corridor has never been so bad & the flooding in Alberta right now is really unseasonable & uncharacteristic , but we have to be careful, the modelling that they are using on the mine right now  is based on past meteorolgical data & some of it not even from here. They are using the high atmospheric calculations from Kelowna & not from Kamloops.  They haven't done core air sampling around the site & in town ahead of time to know what any impact there would be & in fact, nobody has done baseline studies of the mine site ahead of the mine coming so then you would know what the true impact of the mine really has been, so we don't have impact modelling for this.

Jim:  This all comes down for the proponents at least, & for part of the community, to economics – jobs – without a healthy economy, without new jobs for young people, we won't have a healthy community, so is there no way to balance the jobs aspect, the economic aspect, with your health concerns?

Drs.:  Well, I  think you are right,  now we have any balance, because all you are hearing is jobs, jobs, jobs.  We don't have a balance, that is one of the reasons why we stepped into the fray to put the balance there & it's not really for us to make a decision as to whether this mine is good or bad.  I want the average person in Kamloops, my friends, my family, to be able to make a proper decision as to whether this mine is a good thing for this community or not.  That's how you have balance.  We are supposed to be living in a democracy.  We would like people to be well educated so their decisions are something they are not going to regret. That's how I think we get balance & whether we decide if  this is good for our community or not.

Jim:  Do you have an alternative ... the rail tie plant didn't provide many jobs , but there were jobs, it is also this mine – if we kill it there won't be these jobs – do you have an alternative in the terms of the economic aspect-- where will we get jobs if not the mine?

Drs.:  First of all you have to look at the mine & okay, its going to create some jobs, absolutely.  First of all, how good are those jobs going to be-we don't know.  This is a very low grade ore sample – are those jobs going to be permanent or is it going to be something where it will be subject to closures- so we don't know that, but we have Telus coming in, you know we aren't doing too badly. When you look at our unemployment rates we are lower than the BC  rate, we are lower than the Canadian rate, our Tournament Capital is growing every year.  I think diversification is going to be very important to keeping Kamloops alive in terms of jobs. When this mine comes in several jobs will  leave, so you need to balance that as well & realize that – we definitely know from the Utah example that as heavy industry such as a mine this large comes in, there will be industries that leave.

Jim:  Who are you hoping to drive to this website that you have established?

Drs.:  Well, that's easy – everybody!

Jim:  And once they get there & once they read it, which you will hope they will do?

Drs.:  Continue in the learning process – we are physicians-- we continually learn & that's part of our lives. I hope the same for my friends & family, that they continue to learn about the mine & then decide what's best for Kamloops.   I think for people to have a resource – I was hearing they didn't have any way to start & so our website is really just a start, & we have only just started with  with an air pollution tab so we're not calling it a complete project yet but what we endeavored to do to make this website happen , we put it up as soon as we could, when we felt comfortable that everything  up there is scientifically proven & in a reputable journal with an editor & a panel & has gone through third party revue. So we have 450 articles there & if people want to read them directly we have sent two copy sets as a library resource for anyone who wants to read the core material & the key points were vetted by working group members – all the physicians read all the articles that are on that page & felt the messaging in them had to be summarized in a nice easy to read format. But some of the key points are scary & we want people to know that they came from literature that has appeared in the World Health Organization's circle, the American Medical Association, the New England Journal of Medicine, the Lancet – these are big name journals with good reputations.

Jim:  Any final thoughts Twila?  

Drs.:  Yes, just one, there was a question you were going to ask us about no safe levels, & we have been a bit misquoted there, & I just want to set the record straight in that we are not saying that we are  going to accept no level of pollution in our community.  We are already accepting a level of pollution in our community.  The quote is basically, or  the fact is basically  that there is no safe level – as your levels of pollution go up, your health effects go up, your health harms go up. But at some point you have to make a cut-off which is something I think everybody around the world  struggles with.  Right now our air quality in terms of PM 2.5 is around 10, which is exactly where the World Health Organization says we should be, & I think that is why we should be concerned about this mine, is that we want  it to stay at 10 or around there & actually  the BC Ministry of the Environment --  actually their goal for PM2.5 is six. We look like we are about ten, so we are not exactly sure how we are going to make our targets when we are already above that.  I am happy to stay the way we are right now, but I am worried when you look at examples like Utah-- where are we going?  In fact in Utah & other places, they have a competition between industries wanting to pollute, so they have to have enough room in their air quality so someone else can add to their pollution.  To me this is backwards thinking & very reputable studies suggest that we need to get the pollution down to a level that health impacts are reasonable enough that we can handle them.

Jim:  The website – Kamloops Physicians for Healthy Environment –

Drs.: Twila Burgmann, Jill Calder, thanks so much for talking about this, this morning.



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