The following is an open letter sent to New Brunswick Health Minister Madeleine Dubé and Environment Minister Margaret-Ann Blaney.
As the health department struggles to improve the health of New Brunswickers, why is the environment department allowed to undermine that effort by permitting industrial polluters to increase their release of toxic substances known to cause health problems?
In 2005, then Health Minister Elvy Robichaud released the results of a provincially-funded health study of residents in the Belledune area. The study found that industrial releases of metals to the air, water and land from 1967 to 2003 had increased the risk of cancer and non-cancer disease for local residents above provincial health guidelines. The study also found that mortality rates and rates of some cancers and other diseases were higher than those in the health region and the rest of the province.
The study could not link the high pollution in Belledune with high disease rates. Health officials believed that the lifestyle of Belledune residents was responsible for the higher diseases and mused out loud whether rates of tobacco-chewing were higher in Belledune than elsewhere. The minister vowed to do something; he announced another study on the lifestyle of residents.
The health department quietly shelved the study two years ago, and since 2005 emissions of arsenic from the smelter have increased six times, and mercury and cadmium releases have doubled. Data from Environment Canada’s pollutant release inventory (http://www.ec.gc.ca/inrp-npri) also reveals that releases of fine particulates, the dust particles known to cause cancer, cardiovascular, and other diseases, have almost tripled to 27 tonnes.
Since 2005 the environment department has allowed the smelter to process more secondary feed stock such as ash, slag, sludge and scrap glass from televisions and computer screens. In other words, it allowed the smelter to burn more trash. A recent provincial department of environment report states that the P-27 scrubber at the smelter has not met approved emission limits. Now, the environment department wants to allow the smelter to add more silver processing capacity in 2012, and claims the increased production will have little effect on emissions.
Yet, the smelter’s own reports to Environment Canada state that increased processing at the smelter are responsible for increased emissions.
Given that the health department has already identified Belledune residents as having a higher risk of death and disease than the rest of the province, and given that emissions at the smelter have increased significantly in the past five years, why has the department of health not intervened and required that the environment department order the smelter to cut its emissions? Why is the environment department proposing to allow the smelter to increase production without increasing the pollution control requirements on the facility?
I’m sure all New Brunswickers look forward to hearing the answers to these questions.