A coal train passing by White Rock's pier. More coal will move on the BNSF line through White Rock and Delta to Surrey Fraser Docks if a new coal export terminal there is approved.

A coal train passing by White Rock's pier. More coal will move on the BNSF line through White Rock and Delta to Surrey Fraser Docks if a new coal export terminal there is approved.

Health officers seek voice on port’s coal export plans

Pollution from coal trains a concern if new terminals approved

Medical health officers for the Lower Mainland’s two health authorities are requesting a “formal voice” in Port Metro Vancouver’s expansion plans, such as the pending decision on a proposed new coal terminal in Surrey.

The Dec. 17 letter to the port is signed by Dr. Paul van Buynder, Fraser Health’s vice-president of public health and chief medical health officer, and his counterpart at Vancouver Coastal, Dr. Patricia Daly.

Port expansion projects can bring more air emissions and noise, as well as increased road and rail traffic, the letter said, pointing in particular to the Fraser Surrey Docks proposal to add a new coal terminal and a proposed coal terminal expansion at Neptune Terminals in North Vancouver.

It notes Port Metro Vancouver is primarily responsible for the impacts of direct port activities, but not indirect ones, such as increased road and rail traffic in surrounding communities.

“Rail and road trafic produce air emissions, noise  and risk of injury, as well as livability concerns,” the health officers’ letter says.

“The public increasingly expects health impact considerations to take a broader systems perspective.”

They say a multi-stakeholder assessment of health impacts – in use by port officials in Los Angeles – could be a valuable addition to the port’s project approval process and provide “meaningful public engagement.”

Numerous health professionals and groups including the B.C. Lung Association, have previously called on the port to conduct more study of possible health impacts from the coal expansion projects before any decision on approving them.

The Fraser Surrey Docks and Neptune proposals would boost coal shipments through Port Metro Vancouver by 14 million tonnes per year or 35 per cent.

Opponents object to the port’s ability to approve them internally, without consent of any other agency and with minimal public input.

Port Metro Vancouver officials aren’t yet promising any changes in response to the health officers’ request.

Director of planning and development Jim Crandles said the Neptune and Fraser Surrey Docks environmental reviews already underway consider potential risks to human health.

“The very things they talk about in their letter are being reviewed under the process,” he said.

“We will continue on with that review. We will separately explore with Fraser Health and Vancouver Coastal Health on how they can be involved in processes with us.”

Crandles said the port only just received the letter.

“They’ve given us a lot to think about,” he said.  “We want to meet with them and understand more fully their expectations and how they see themselves getting involved in our processes.”

Climate activists who don’t want U.S. coal to get to market in Asia hope to block the projects and are also fighting new coal export terminals proposed in Washington State.

Coal trains already roll along the BNSF Railway to Westshore Terminals in Delta but more trains would go through White Rock and Delta to the proposed new terminal on the Fraser River in Surrey if it’s approved.

A full public review of the coal export decisions is required, said Kevin Washbrook of Voters Taking Action on Climate Change.

“The Port Authority has to acknowledge that when it approves a development, it generates impacts in surrounding communities and neighbourhoods – areas outside its jurisdiction,” he said.