By Jennifer Stahn
Cherise Udell of Utah Moms for Clean Air stood in front of Kamloops City Council today flanked by dozens of Kamloops residents while she spoke on the effects of mining close to large populations.
Supporters of Kamloops Moms for Clean Air brought children, signs and enthusiasm to council chambers Tuesday afternoon as Udell said Utah has some of the worst air quality in the U.S. and at times in the world. She said responsible mining starts with looking at the proximity to large populations.
“The (Utah) project should've been shelved there,” Udell said. “The risks are way too high to impose on residents.”
Utah made international news in January as the state beat out even Beijing, China—notorious for its poor air quality—as having the worst air in the world. The Rio Tinto mine is responsible for about 30 per cent of the pollution in the airshed, according to Udell, resulting in about 1,000 to 2,000 premature deaths every year in Salt Lake City.
On a bad day, she said, the amount of pollution is equivalent to smoking half a pack of cigarettes per day. As a result, children's lungs will never fully develop and statistically two years are shaved off their life because of the air quality in the area, Udell added.
Mining companies will often offer up the advantages to having a mine nearby, she said, talking about more jobs, more tax base and support for the community through sponsorship but jobs at Rio Tinto make up less than one per cent of all jobs in the area. Government has to weigh that against pollution and health impacts when deciding whether a mine should be allowed. She urged councillors to also consider the number of lost jobs and businesses that could result from having a mine nearby, she said.
Udell said the city can take more pride in being the Tournament Capital of Canada over being “the mining pit of British Columbia.”
Mayor Peter Milobar was quick to point out the city only gets a partial say in the project, and only through passing on public feedback. What the provincial and federal governments choose to do with the information is up to them.
Several councillors took the opportunity to ask further questions of Udell, who received several rounds of applause and a partial standing ovation during her presentation. She clarified the proximity of the Rio Tinto mine to Salt Lake City, which is actually further away than the proposed Ajax mine would be to Kamloops, as well as how pollution levels are measured.
While the mine has not affected the population of Salt Lake City, Coun. Dever recalled hearing of another city that saw it's population dwindle by a third because of a mining operation.
“It will continue to effect a growing population,” Udell said of Rio Tinto, “a very young population.”
While the Kamloops and Utah situations have their differences, including differences in size of the city and the mining operations, Milobar said the similarities warrant serious consideration of the information Udell provided.
“We understand so much better the consequences of air pollution on our health... I'm a mom, I understand, I want to help moms here protect their children,” a tearful Udell concluded.
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