Independent docs, not necessarily RIH staff, back federal review on Ajax

Cam Fortems / Kamloops Daily News
December 19, 2011 01:00 AM

While 60 unnamed doctors purportedly signed a petition asking for a panel review on Ajax Mine, medical staff at Royal Inland Hospital have taken no official position.

The letter "isn't something from Royal Inland staff," Steve Rollheiser, president of Royal Inland Hospital's medical staff said Monday.

Kamloops Area Preservation Association, which opposes the mine, posted a letter from "Kamloops physicians and surgeons" on its website warning of air pollution from the mine and asking for a panel review. Kamloops Mayor Peter Milobar took the letter to Ottawa for his meeting with federal Environment Minister Peter Kent earlier this month.

Rollheiser said the letter is from doctors acting on their own, unlike in 2009, when the hospital's medical staff voted to oppose Aboriginal Cogeneration Corp's proposed rail tie processing plant here. That letter, from the medical staff of Royal Inland Hospital, was approved through a motion of the staff.

Opposition to the railway tie plant "was based on the precautionary principle," Rollheiser said, because the technology was untested and hazards well known.

But he said open pit mines exist worldwide, and their hazards and how to protect against them are well understood.

Signatures to the letter on Ajax were gathered over a three-day period by Judith Naylor, a retired physician opposed to the mine. But Naylor told The Daily News she won't release those signatures because they were gathered with an expectation of privacy.

Milobar said he was told when he received the letter that the names were to be held in confidence.

But one city doctor who endorsed the letter said he believes a majority of physicians in Kamloops either want a panel review or oppose the mine outright.

"All of us have real concerns about the mine and its effect on health," said Dr. Bruce Newmarch, a family and emergency room physician.

Newmarch noted the B.C. auditor general's report on B.C.'s Environmental Assessment Office was critical of the approval process for major projects, particularly a lack of long-term monitoring.

He said the airshed here is at risk from elevated levels of PM 2.5, tiny particles from dust linked to heart and lung disease.

"I'd say the majority (of physicians) don't want the mine."

A number of groups, most recently the Kamloops and District Labour Council, have come out against the mine despite the fact that no environmental studies have been released.

Rollheiser said while critics have pointed out well-known environmental hazards and potential health risks from dust, there are also well-documented health benefits from well-paying jobs.

"If we don't get the mine, what are the downsides?... If it is an economic benefit, there are health benefits that accrue with that."

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