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By: Korie Marshall

The situation with dust coming off places like the dry drawdown zone of Kinbasket Reservoir and the question of the potential health risks from breathing silica with the dust is complex. But what I often find most confusing are the different standards various groups apply to situations.

For example, it is confusing when WorkSafe BC sets maximum exposure levels for employees and requires organizations to mitigate that exposure, but for the general public, that exposure is not even generally measured. The Ministry of Environment measures air quality by the number of a certain size particles in the air in a given period, but doesn’t say which particles those are.

Sometimes the differences might be about the level of risk, or because the knowledge and research over time changes, and it takes time to change regulations and standards. Maybe with an organization like WorkSafe BC, the fact that an employer is responsible for the conditions you might work under means they’ve got higher standards to live up to. Sometimes one group might be paying attention to a specific issue while another is paying attention to some broader issues. Maybe that is what is happening with the issue of safety for cell phones and other wireless technology, but I find that situation even more confusing to follow.

Health Canada has recently released Safety Code 6 which recommends safe levels of wireless transmissions for human health. But all sorts of organizations are attacking the code which they say is too lax, and has not considered a number of recent scientific studies showing the dangers of exposure to wireless signals.

Meanwhile, Health Canada and federal Health Minister Rona Ambrose say there is no research to show any health or medical benefits of marijuana. So in one instance, Health Canada says there is no research but in another, they just seem to ignore it anyway.

It would be funny if it wasn’t so scary.

Being a user of wireless technology and seeing all the potential benefits of using my cell phone and the internet, I understand and agree with the push to have greater coverage on our highways, communities, schools, etc. But if Health Canada were to acknowledge that there are serious risks associated with using wireless technology – that would throw quite a kink in the government’s plans, and the plans of a lot of businesses and communities. And I’ve heard lots of stories about the potential health risks, but I don’t know how much of a risk it is to me or our community, or what I can do to change it.

With the dust from Kinbasket, it’s easy to say that maybe BC Hydro should do something about it, or maybe Environment Canada should. In fact, BC Hydro has spent a lot of money trying to reintroduce vegetation to areas like the upper end of Kinbasket, with little long-term success. A lot of local people have talked about having a permanent lake at this end of the reservoir, and that may keep down the dust at this end. But it would likely introduce some more problems, like flooding the Valemount Peatland, which is a very productive wetland. Plus I can’t imagine how you could build something that wouldn’t cut the permanent lake off from the rest of the reservoir, or how you’d deal with fish passage. And the reality is that Kinbasket is not the only source of dust – there is lots of sand all over the province, including many of our own back alleys and back yards.

All of these topics – dealing with health risks from dust, and from wireless technology, and from marijuana – are really complex, and there is no single answer to any of them. But I think it is important both to acknowledge the real and potential issues, and to not be reactive about any single issue. Just about everything we do involves some level of risk, and recognizing the risks means we can make better decisions.