STAHN: Doctors brought little clarity to air quality concerns

Are you confused about the fact sheet local doctors released on air quality in Kamloops last week? You're not alone.

A group called Kamloops Physicians for a Healthy Environment cobbled together information and data from different sources to ring some alarm bells about air quality and it created plenty of controversy. Their point was Kamloops already has air quality concerns and suggest the proposed KGHM Ajax mine can only make it worse. But their data was attacked by KGHM Ajax Mining and an air quality meteorologist with the Ministry of the Environment.

The key issues have become lost in a sea of red herrings. One of those herrings is the rise of fine particulate matter in the city.

“I’m not saying they’re wrong,” Ralph Adams of the Ministry of Environment says. “The trouble is it’s more complex than it seems.”

While some people have pointed directly at the change of instrumentation used to measure the particulate matter known as PM2.5, Adams says that's a distraction. We should instead look at what the real issue is, he says.

The small particulate matter is above the provincial objective in Kamloops, and it has been going up every year since the instrumentation was changed in 2010. Spokespersons from the B.C. Lung Association and the Ministry of Environment both agree with the physicians that—and that alone—is something we need to be concerned about in our city.

“There is always a concern with air quality in every city. There is no safe level for (small) particulate,” Adams says. “That’s why we have millions of dollars in technology scattered around. The fact it’s over the provincial objective is more of a concern, but we don’t need to shut down everything.”

The question now is whether the physicians are correct in saying the proposed mine will be a main contributor to air pollution in Kamloops. Adams doesn’t think so. Dr. Menn Biagtan of the B.C. Lung Association doesn’t think so. Yves Lacasse of KGHM Ajax Mining doesn’t think so.

Doctors, however, aren't backing down.

“We definitely know our air got worse in 2013… and the curve is very steep at these low numbers so health impacts are huge,” Dr. Twila Burgmann says. “We stand behind our data, we are not wrong.”

Burgmann says the New Gold mine just west of Kamloops, which began in 2012 and was at full build last year, could be a reason why the PM2.5 levels rose.

“What’s open to interpretation is why it went up. Is it because New Gold went into full run?” she says. “We don’t know, that’s why we want it looked at.”

The local physicians point to National Pollutant Release Inventory numbers from 2012 that show New Gold as a top three emitter in Canada and Burgmann says they are concerned the combination of the New Gold and Ajax mines would cause the particulate levels to rise even higher.

Adams is concerned the doctors have used ‘stunts’—pictures and graphs that exaggerate the data—to get their point across and those can take away from the actual issues at hand, the increase of particulate matter that's now above the provincial objective.

The doctors definitely have a point. Even though a full study has not been completed there is science already out there—we know the dangers.

We should be listening to their concerns. They have spent years studying health and they understand the correlation between environment and health. But they also need to be careful about how they present their information if they want to remain a credible source in this debate.

To contact a reporter, email Jennifer Stahn at or call 250-819-3723. To contact an editor, email or call 250-718-2724.

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