Sunbury Neighbourhood Association

the NOW - March 7, 2007

It's a Gateway to cancer: groups

Tom Zytaruk

The latest battle over the controversial Gateway road program is being fought at the microscopic level.

The menace, though mere microns in size, is not unseen. It's light enough to float in the air for days or even weeks, but when it lands, it collects to form the black gunk Sunbury residents near busy River Road are sweeping off their sundecks and balconies.

A group called Gateway 30, representing a network of 30 community groups south of the Fraser who oppose the massive transportation project, is claiming the South Fraser Perimeter Road the government proposes to build along Surrey and North Delta's Fraser River waterfront will poison local school children within a kilometre of the highway.

"The Gateway Program's own literature acknowledges that cancer rates will rise in Ladner, North Delta, Royal Heights and Fraser Heights as a result of proximity to the truck highway, with children and the elderly being the most seriously affected," says Don Hunt, of the Sunbury Neighbourhood Association, one of the groups under Gateway 30's umbrella.

The culprit is diesel particulate matter, 2.5 microns and smaller. "Everybody knows these days about the danger of diesel particulate."

Though the Ministry of Transportation tries to give the data "a good spin," Hunt says, it acknowledges in its own reports, in Technical Volume 16, page 51, that "human health is the second largest category impacted by the Gateway program" and "economic impact is very high because the estimated economic damages from PM 2.5 (Diesel particulate matter 2.5 microns and smaller) related health problems per tonne of PM 2.5 emissions are substantial."

Moreover, the data acknowledges that "close proximity to a major roadway has a higher cancer rate and has higher respiratory disease rates."

According to Volume 7, page 50 of Gateway's own reports, the short-term health effects of diesel exhaust inhalation include headaches, eye, nose, throat and bronchial irritation, fatigue, stomach aches, nausea and compromised pulmonary function. "There is growing epidemiological evidence that increased cardiorespiratory mortalities follow increased ambient concentrations of diesel particulate matter," it notes.

Dark by any standard. But hey, there's good news: Vol. 16, p. 39 of an Environmental Assessment Office report states that "with increased air pollution there can possibly be increased employment (eg. in the health sector) because of the economic activity associated with correcting the results of its impacts."

Teresa Townsley, vice-chair of the Delta school board, said the board is "very concerned" about the potential for pollution in local schools and will seek more information from the provincial government. The above quotation from the EAO report did not warm her heart.

"That sounds absolutely shocking," she said. "We're talking about children here."

Delta's children, she added, are nobody's collateral damage.

Ironically, Hunt's family moved to Sunbury 12 years ago to get away from a road project. Two of his children, aged 7 and 10, attend Brooke elementary, one of the schools Gateway 30 says will be adversely affected by emissions.

Hunt noted that a UBC study found diesel particulate measurable up to 750 metres. "Seven hundred and fifty metres from this new proposed South Fraser Perimeter Road is the other side of Nordel," he said.

Brooke elementary is 250 metres from where the proposed highway will run. Diesel particulate, he notes, is "especially dangerous in a playground because the kids are running and deep-breathing, so it gets very deep into their lungs."

Gateway 30 alleges that thousands of local school children will be harmed by the project. Thirty-seven parks and playgrounds and 16 Delta and Surrey schools will be within one kilometre of the highway. These schools are Annieville, Brooke, Delta Manor, Ladner, Holly, Devon Gardens, Gibson, Erma Stephenson, James Ardiel, Bridgeview and Royal Heights elementary schools, as well as Delview and Kwantlen Park secondary schools and Bothwell, Igra Islamic and Pacific Academy schools.

Prompted by a 1997 British study that found children dying of cancer tend to live within five kilometres of a highway, Brian Brubaker of the Bridgeview Community Association, another Gateway 30 member, asks the obvious: "Why would they knowingly create conditions that will cause cancer in children?"

But Kevin Falcon, B.C.'s minister of transportation, says Gateway 30 has got it all wrong.

"I think it's sad and unfortunate that they try and peddle facts like that, that are not true," he said. "In all cases air quality, which includes human health effects, are improved in 2021 with or without the South Fraser Perimeter Road_ that just puts a lie to what they're trying to peddle."

Falcon noted that emission standards are improving in automobiles. "Diesel particulates are still a problem, to be honest with you, but a very minor percentage of the overall problem. Most of it is driven by regular-fuel gasoline cars."

But won't there be a lot of trucks running up and down the proposed highway?

"Yes," Falcon admitted, "but there already is a lot of trucks right now, and what's happening right now is they're all jammed on the local municipal roads, like River Road, and they're sitting there idling, spewing all that stuff out into the environment and not being able to move."

published on 03/07/2007

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