An IHA medical health officer told B.C.’s senior public health physician the proposed Ajax mine represents “a serious public health hazard” to Kamloops.
Dr. Peter Barss, until last month one of four medical health officers for Interior Health Authority, also urged provincial authorities to declare the proposed mine a health hazard that should receive no further consideration.
The opinion by Dr. Peter Barss came in the form of an email to Dr. Perry Kendall, B.C.’s chief medical health officer as well as to other medical health officers.
The information was obtained by Kamloops Physicians for a Healthy Environment through a freedom of information request.
Dr. Jill Calder, a member of the group, said Wednesday it is making further requests to health authorities because there are redacted comments and holes in information it has received.
The email from Barss was written in June last year, Calder said.
“Hence, in my professional opinion the proposed Ajax Kamloops open-pit mine is ill-conceived and poorly situated, and therefore unsafe, and would represent, if enacted, a serious public health hazard for the city and peoples of Kamloops” Barss wrote.
Barss also urged Kendall to invoke a section of the B.C. Public Health Act to declare the project a health hazard and order it “to stop the review process for the proposal and remove it from further consideration.”
Calder said the message is a damning opinion of Ajax by a highly qualified public health physician who has intimate knowledge of the process and document filings.
“It’s what we’ve been feeling as physicians.”
Barss could not be reached for comment. He is listed as an adjunct professor with University of B.C., is a fellow with Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada and a fellow in public health and general preventive medicine of the American College of Preventive Medicine.
Dr. Andrew Larder, senior medical health officer for IHA, said Wednesday that Barss was part of a four-person team working on the Ajax file. It includes environmental health staff and a public health engineer.
Dr. Barss was on the team in May and June last year.
“I’d been working on Ajax before that,” Larder said.
“He took over that role. Part of my job is to monitor how things are going. We discussed how things were going. After that, we decided he’d come off the file.”
Calling it “open to debate” Larder said he believes it’s too early to cast opinion on Ajax because its application has not yet been filed with government.
“We don’t have a position right now. It’s too early to form a conclusion.”
Robin Bartlett, a spokeswoman with KGHM-Ajax, said the company has not seen Barss’ statement before today.
“We’re in the middle of a very rigorous environmental assessment process. That does include human health and ecological risk assessments.”
Bartlett said the corporation is not in a position today to counteract the opinion but said its studies “will provide answers to the community and health community” about potential impact from the mine.
“As we get information we’re able to share, we’ll share it,” she said.
Kamloops Physicians for a Healthy Environment has demanded KGHM-Ajax fund an independent health impact assessment.
The province has declined to order such a study, arguing medical concerns will be addressed by the provincial Environmental Assessment Office.
Larder said it would be difficult under the Public Health Act to make an order against Ajax declaring it a potential health hazard.
“It’s difficult to issue an order against a health hazard that doesn’t exist.”
Barss received notoriety in 2001, when he was awarded an Ig Noble prize at Harvard University. The award pokes fun at oddball research, in this case Barss’s published study in the British Medical Journal on the dangers of falling coconuts in Papua New Guinea.
He has been honoured by Canadian Red Cross for his work in preventing swimming pool and bathtub injuries.