A Utah doctor and former Harvard medical school professor told 300 people gathered at Interior Savings Centre on Sunday about the devastating effects of air pollution caused by mines.
And he should know. Dr. Brian Moench has fought two bouts with cancer and has watched two of his children do the same.
He said that's largely due to the pollution from a behemoth Rio Tinto copper mine based less than 50 kilometres from Salt Lake City for the past 100 years.
"I had to hold my daughter's hand on her 27th birthday and send her off to the operating room where she got her double mastectomy," said Moench while choking back tears. "I knew she was going to be OK, but I've never been the same since.
"The reason why I'm here . . . is because what happened to me shouldn't have to happen to you. It's my obligation to try and help you prevent that from happening to you."
Throughout the talk hung the lingering notion that the Ajax copper mine proposed for the outskirts of town will have the same impact.
Moench is the president and founder of Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment. He and Utah Moms for Clean Air founder Cherise Udell guided a gathering organized by Kamloops Moms for Clean Air through a two-hour presentation that had the audience laughing during lighter moments.
But the subject matter was deadly serious.
Using scientific studies from such sources as Harvard School of Public Health and the American Environmental Protection Agency, Moench drove home the way material associated with mines — lead, arsenic, diesel and mercury to name a few — lowers IQs, causes rates of cancer to soar, takes years off life spans, causes brain lesions that are precursors to Alzheimer's disease and stunts organ growth in children.
And the effects can be passed to future generations even when the mine is no longer in operation.
"We are what our grandparents breathed. And our grandchildren will be what we breathed," he said.
Moench is suing Rio Tinto to stop expansion plans.
Udell has been fighting for Rio Tinto to spend the money for proper pollution mitigation since founding her group six years ago.
Udell shared with the crowd the industry "policy playbook" — the industry tactics she's encountered during her struggle.
She said mining industry community enhancement projects like seniors' centres, sports teams and youth activities are actually a form of "silencing money."
Rio Tinto almost achieved its "divide and conquer" tactic when company executives began "negotiating" with her group's then president.
The effect was that the group leaders no longer wanted to rally for fear of undoing the work achieved through months of meetings. And it caused a fraction in the group that led to an offshoot being formed.
When Udell sat in on a Rio Tinto shareholder meeting in London, England, a few years ago, she realized company executives bring up such negotiations to show "community consensus" during shareholder meetings to appease nervous investors.
She also highlighted the bullying and intimidation tactics that were used against her and her husband mainly from those in the community who rely on Rio Tinto's endowments.
The irony, she said, is that the mine's employment makes up less than one per cent of all jobs in Salt Lake City.
"The Sizzler Steakhouse employs more people," she said.
The idea that a community must choose between clean air and jobs is a false choice because bad air means other companies may not want to set up shop in Kamloops and residents may not want to move here, she said.
And with profits in the range of $14 billion, which Rio Tinto achieved last year, mines can well afford it.
The community is in control of setting the bar and it must do so united, said Udell.
Moench added his own warning over the erosion of economic benefits once the mine is established.
"Profit is their motive and once they're set up they will systematically shave costs" including wages, benefits and jobs, he said.
The overarching sentiment among the crowd was opposition to Ajax Mine.
Individuals in the crowd nodded vigorously and spoke out when asked whether they'd seen some of the playbook tactics.
And many of them wrote down their fears on several posters along the room's walls meant for ideas and concerns.
"It's so close to a school. Where's the common sense?" stated one writer.
"Every time my child's asthma acts up I wonder how is this going to be when we're a mine city?" stated another.
Writers also called for action in the form of rallies, which echoed the sentiment of an individual in the crowd who suggested women bare their breasts to get attention on the issue.
Mediator Mel Rothenburger reiterated his suggestion that Kamloops City council hold a town hall meeting to discuss Ajax.
Udell said she will remain in Kamloops for the early part of the week to hold meetings and help locals strategize their approach to the mining proposal.
Mine representatives did not make themselves known during the meeting, but community liaison Yves Lacasse wrote in an online post to The Daily News website that he was sending staff to take notes.
"We are committed to learning and listening," he stated. "We know this is a difficult issue for our community, but I want to assure you that we are responsible operators and we want to do this right for our community."