Almost one third of schools in Surrey fall within five kilometers of railways transporting coal – enough for local school trustees to throw their support behind a call for an independent health impact assessment of the proposed expansion of coal handling at the Fraser Surrey Docks.
Board members of the Surrey school district unanimously passed a motion on Feb. 13 to support the Fraser Health Authority’s request that Port Metro Vancouver conduct a more comprehensive health impact assessment of the proposed expansion.
Surrey Fraser Docks submitted an environmental impact assessment to PMV in November last year, but many criticized it for being inadequate.
The motion to support the call for a health impact assessment was passed after Surrey school trustees heard from members of Communities and Coal, a grassroots organization representing residents in the lower mainland who are concerned about the potential increase in coal train traffic across the region.
30 schools in Surrey are within 5km of railway tracks
I chatted with Paula Williams of Communities and Coal last week, who gave a presentation at the Surrey school district meeting on Feb. 13. She said the organization is concerned about the effect that increased coal transportation will have on the 30 schools in Surrey (out of a total of 99) that are located close to railway tracks transporting coal.
“We’ve mapped out the schools, and with diesel particulate and coal dust there’s a five-kilometre range which we call the danger zone, and a lot of these schools are located within that region,” Williams told me.
Williams said children and the elderly are most vulnerable to respiratory diseases which can be caused by coal dust and diesel particulate.
Current assessments don’t go far enough
On Feb. 19 Port Metro Vancouver announced it will request further information from the environmental impact assessment submitted by Fraser Surrey Docks.
Williams said it doesn’t go far enough. Communities and Coal – and the Surrey school district and other school boards – are requesting an independent assessment that meets international standards.
“We’re asking for a comprehensive health impact assessment, which takes six to twelve months to complete. It’s transparent; they would meet with all the stakeholders, including the chief medical health officers.”
Vancouver, Burnaby, Delta, and Richmond school boards have also shown their support for a health impact assessment, as well as the British Columbia Teachers’ Federation.