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Letter to the editor: Coal exposure not a health issue

Jan 9, 2014

Peace Arch News
January 7, 2014
By Mark Gordienko

Re: ‘There’s no going back,’ Dec. 31.

I would like to briefly explain to your readers why the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) Canada and other unions support – not oppose – the Fraser Surrey Docks expansion proposal.

Our union respects the right of residents such as Paula Williams of Communities and Coal to disagree, but our members believe this is a safe project that will create the jobs and investment that help fund needed health care, education and other social programs.

Perhaps most importantly, I can tell your readers that if our members’ health were adversely affected by coal or exposure to dust, we would know – and we would be the first to demand action. Safety is a primary concern for the ILWU Canada and we believe that measures taken to limit and reduce coal dust exposure to far below levels established by government ensure that our members have safe workplaces where coal is loaded.

We can say with certainty that coal dust and exposure have simply not appeared in our members as a health issue – even though they are the workers closest to the coal-handling process. Many of our over 3,000 members in B.C. and their families are also residents of White Rock, Surrey and Delta who live near the rail lines and port facilities where they work.

We agree with the Fraser Surrey Docks environmental impact assessment, by experts such as Dr. Leonard Ritter, professor emeritus of toxicology at the University of Guelph’s School of Environmental Sciences. That study shows that many complaints by environmental groups and others are misinformed or exaggerated.

The study states: “The project is not likely to cause significant adverse environmental, socio-economic or health effects, taking into account the implementation of the main risk-mitigation measures described above, in addition to mitigation measures, construction and operation management plans, best management and standard practices.”

These conclusions match our experience in safely transporting coal for over 40 years in B.C. That’s important because the mining and export of B.C. metallurgical coal for steel manufacturing in other countries is a critical part of our economy, as is transportation of thermal coal.

The coal sector provides good, family-supporting jobs for thousands of workers who, along with their employers, pay municipal, provincial and federal taxes. Overall, coal creates 26,000 direct and indirect jobs, $3.2 billion in economic activities and $715 million in tax revenues for the province and B.C. municipalities every year. Our union, the United Steelworkers, the International Union of Operating Engineers, the BC Building Trades and other unions involved in the coal sector have all supported the Fraser Surrey Docks project. Together we represent more than 50,000 workers in B.C.

When those who oppose the project are quoted, it would be helpful that those who are in support are also recognized and asked for comment in the future.

Mark Gordienko, ILWU Canada

View the original letter in Peach Arch News



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