Health minister states study of human health impacts posed by industry in Northeast forthcoming

In response to a letter sent by Dr. Nasir Jetha, president of the BC Medical Association, Micheal de Jong, provincial Minister of Health, states his government will take a three-phased approach to study the human health impacts posed by the industry.

The first phase will involve gathering input and hearing concerns from local stakeholders in order to inform the scope and terms of reference for the study. The Minister states that process will be completed independently by a suitable contractor.

Phase two will involve “an independent, scientific review of potential public health hazards and an examination of the current regulatory system and emergency response practices.” It will “take into account studies and policies from other jurisdictions, and the scientific work being done nationally and internationally, to assess the human health impacts of oil and gas activities such as hydraulic fracturing.” Following that assessment, recommendations may be made for improving the current regulatory, monitoring and industry practice systems.

The third phase of the assessment will “institute a second stakeholder engagement process to inform communities of the proposed recommendations, incorporate feedback and complete a management review.”

The Minister states that the first phase of the health assessment will be completed in three months from start to finish, and that the duration of the subsequent phases will be determined by the recommendations coming out of the first phase. However, there is no reference as to how that community engagement will take place and when it is to begin.

Dr. Jetha’s original letter, dated Oct. 14, called on the provincial government to develop a detailed health plan in response to concerns raised by local residents. Jetha cites that the government has an obligation under the Public Health Act to develop a plan when a potential health hazard is raised by a Medical Health Officer – in this case, Dr. Charl Badenhorst, Medical Health Officer in the Northeast for Northern Health, who also chairs an Oil and Gas Working Group.

The BC Medical Association – a voluntary association of British Columbia's physicians, medical residents, and medical students that represents about 95 per cent of practising physicians in the province – called for a plan to be developed that includes collaboration and consultation with community stakeholders, and is done in a way that in transparent and objective. It states the plan should also include regular environmental impact studies, and should not be “a one-time endeavour but instead requires an ongoing commitment to independent monitoring and public reporting on air and water quality in the affected areas.

The BC Medical Association adds its voice to a list of dozens of local and non-local agencies and stakeholder groups who have called on the government to study the potential health hazards posed by oil and gas activity in the Northeast.

Mile 0 City has made a request to the Ministry of Health for more information regarding the scope and timeline of the proposed human health risk assessment, and will also endeavour to get the reaction of local stakeholders to the proposed study in the coming days.