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It is pretty clear that most of us in the Robson Valley want more and better job opportunities locally, and it is important to show support for local businesses, especially proposed new ones. But it is dangerous to ignore the potential costs.

At a recent public hearing, the spokesperson for a proposed new silica processing facility near McBride said that silica is not dangerous because it is commonly used as an additive in pharmaceutical pills. He also promised the company would use the latest technologies to minimize the pollution.

The zoning would allow the crushing of silica and there are residential properties nearby.

I have to question the company’s ability to minimize pollution, if its spokesperson doesn’t even understand the difference between risks from swallowing verses risks from inhaling. I also have to question a review process when a proponent is able to make a statement like this and not be challenged on the facts.

WorkSafeBC warns that crystalline silica – silica dust – is a human carcinogen, and exposures must be kept “as low as reasonably achievable.” I find it somewhat ironic that while WorkSafeBC has to protect workers, there aren’t really any recommendations for people who are exposed to silica in their nearby environment, but aren’t being paid.

Northern Health made a recommendation for the proposed facility to have a dust control plan in place, including reducing sources of windblown dust, ensuring trucks are tarped, paving heavily used haul roads and wet-sweeping paved areas on a routine basis. They recognize that dust, when breathed in, can be a health-hazard, and a look at the data on silica will tell you it is a special concern because its particles are so tiny they require special detection and filtration systems. They are actually more dangerous, more harmful if they get inside our lungs than larger particles.

It is also concerning to me that the company’s representative would say that underground water in the area is already polluted and people should not drink it. Did no one question this? Are local residents aware of this? And does that mean no one should care if the water is polluted more? Are you allowed to say anything at a public hearing, so long as you say it in a calm voice?

I understand the community is hopeful for the proposed new business, though I haven’t seen any information about how many jobs it will create, or how much economic spin-off it will generate. But a business that presents such obvious health risks over the long term should be considered carefully.

Lots of regulations will apply – for example Northern Health pointed out that the operations must comply with the Drinking Water Protection Act and the Public Health Act, and all the associated regulations.

It’s one thing to enact and enforce regulations. It’s another to realize years from now that your health has been at risk for years.