by Mike Podina
Many residents in McBride seem to be in favour of the jobs that could be created if a new silica plant near a residential area is approved, but others are deeply concerned about the health effects for the community of breathing in silica dust.
The company 1823606 Alberta Ltd., the owner of the old mill site near a residential area on Ziedler Road, just north of McBride, recently made an application to amend Zoning Bylaw No. 2892 in order to establish a mineral resources processing facility on the site. The applicant proposes to truck in rock material from Dome Creek, process silica at the facility, then transport it further by train to other destinations.
On the bylaw 2892, Mineral Resources Processing is defined as: crushing, screening, washing, storing, packaging or other processing of rock, sand, gravel, aggregate soil or other materials of which land is composed.
The public hearing was held on Wednesday, Feb. 24th at the Robson Valley Community Center in McBride, which was filled by around 170 people eager to discuss and hear the pros and cons of such a proposal.
The hearing was opened by four representatives from the Regional District of Fraser-Fort George presenting the rules of the hearing and reading the bylaw 2892. They then read the citizens written submissions received before the meeting. Over 60 people submitted form letters in favour of approving the bylaw with no other comments. A number of local citizens, many with medical backgrounds, opposed the silica processing within the towns residential area. Regional District staff read submissions by Dr. Monica Marcu and Dr. Jeff Corbett who pleaded against allowing the silica plant within a residential area, so close to populated streets, due to the major health risks posed by silica, a proven cancer inducing agent when inhaled.
The medical literature and labor laws in BC, and throughout Canada and the US, acknowledge that silica causes the formation of fibrous tissue in the lungs, obstructing respiration. Workers and populations exposed to silica can develop silicosis, lung and laryngeal cancer, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, autoimmune disorders, and other diseases. Ildiko Polgar from Northern Health emphasized the health risks and added increase in noise pollution and traffic in the vicinity of the proposed manufacturing area. Dr. Mostafa Kamal Hassan and David Marchant spoke against the approval of bylaw 2892, citing the same medical arguments, sound pollution and light pollution (if the lighting system is not done right).
Amber Hack, who, together with her fiancé, recently bought a farm in McBride, spoke in favor of the approval of the bylaw 2892 due to the potential opportunity for new jobs in the valley. Both she and her fiancé are working in Alberta due to the lack of jobs in McBride, although she said she does have concerns about the health risks associated with silica.
Page Norton was in favor of the approval of the bylaw 2892 due to the opportunities for work that it might create; he said, like other speakers that McBride needs jobs. For the last few years he was working far away from his wife and kids, and would rather be closer to them. Other attendees described how they moved to McBride within the last 5 years but spent less than half of the time in McBride with their families, due to lack of jobs, and many work and commute to Alberta.
Other locals opposed the approval of bylaw 2892 due to the property value loss for those in the vicinity of the designated land; they noted there are about 60 properties in a one mile radius of the proposed silica processing plant.
Kit Moyer spoke on behalf of the numbered Alberta company saying that silica is not dangerous but is commonly used as an additive for pharmaceutical pills.
According to studies, how a person is exposed is key ingested silica has little or no side effects, but the same fine silica, if breathed in, clogs the respiratory tract. It is like water safe to drink but not to breathe, while air is safe to breathe, but deadly if introduced to your veins.
Moyer didnt make any promises or clarifications about the number of jobs created, but he promised the company will use the latest technologies to minimize the pollution. He says the underground water around the designated silica processing area is already polluted and people should not drink it.
The amendment bylaw will go back to the Regional District board for a final decision at an upcoming meeting.