MAC/20: Mines and Communities

Toxic legacy still ruins Canadian lives

Published by MAC on 2007-08-10


Toxic legacy still ruins Canadian lives

10th August 2007

A forty year Canadian legacy of soil contamination, linked to severe ill health and premature deaths, has still not been addressed. A lead smelter, set up by Noranda in the sixties (now operated by Xstrata-Falconbridge) allegedly continues to poison workers and residents in the Belledune area of New Brunswick.

Meanwhile a study of workers at the smelter, published by Neurology journal last month, appears to show that those with high literacy levels suffer less from lead smelter exposure than those with a lower reading ability, although all of them continue to suffer some disability.


Belledune still seeks answers

To The Editor, Times & Transcript

10th August 2007

Since the mid-1960s, several industries, most notable of which is a lead smelter, have been situated in the small Bay of Chaleur community of Belledune. Over the past 40 years, citizens of the Belledune area were led to believe, by both government and industry, that their environment was healthy and safe.

About four years ago, the Government of New Brunswick announced its decision to allow Bennett Environmental Inc. to construct a toxic soil incinerator in Belledune without conducting a full Environmental Impact Assessment. This incinerator would have the capability to emit dioxins a million times more toxic than the high heavy metal pollution already present in the Belledune area. These emissions would threaten the communities along the Bay of Chaleur in both New Brunswick and Quebec. As a result, concerned citizens became more proactive and called for immediate action from the government to reverse this decision. Since that time, some studies were undertaken.

1. More independent soil tests were done for private property owners. These tests consistently revealed unacceptable high levels of heavy metals, such as lead and arsenic in soil samples especially those east of the lead smelter.

2. A study was conducted by Inka Milewski of the Conservation Council of New Brunswick that examined the written communications between industry in Belledune, the New Brunswick government and testing groups that carried on studies of the Belledune area over the previous 40 years. Inka Milewski's document entitled "Dying for Development", published by the Conservation Council in 2006, revealed a history of cover-up and non-disclosure of environmental and health stresses that had existed in the Belledune area for about 40 years.

3. In 2005, a very important report (Belledune Health Study) by Goss Gilroy, a consulting firm commissioned by the provincial government, was released. Two of the many alarming health issues raised in the study which compared the health of the Belledune area residents with provincial norms, include findings of: a 33 per cent greater cancer rate of all citizens; and a 40 per cent greater mortality rate in males.

It is now two years later, and still, we have no explanation for the very high cancer rates and mortality rates that exist in their industrial area of Belledune. A cancellation of the memorial study, as reported in the press last week, indicates the continuation of the legacy of cover-up concerning the health and environmental conditions in the Belledune area. By canceling the Memorial Health Study, does it mean that the New Brunswick government does not care about the health of the people in the Belledune area?

Reginald Killoran,

Bathurst


Taxes on contaminated land should be lowered: owner

CBC News

13th August 2007 A Belledune man says he's appealing his property assessment because arsenic and lead contamination on his land should lower his taxes.

While some might say Ron Doucet has a million-dollar view from his waterfront home, he doubts anyone would want his land. He lives 150 metres from the Brunswick lead smelter, where he also worked all his life.

"I worked and I got paid, but I didn't expect them to poison my property, and probably my kids and my grandchildren," he told CBC News.

Despite the fact that Doucet's land has high levels of lead and arsenic, his property taxes have ballooned from $470 a year to $800 in just three years.

Doucet says he wants that number reduced.

"Contaminated property is actually worth nothing. Who buys contaminated property? And my house is located on that property, so that devaluates my house big time."

A representative for the province told the Assessment and Planning Appeal Board on Friday that Doucet's land is contaminated, but that all other properties within a four-kilometre radius of the smelter are as well.

Brent Staeben of Service New Brunswick said that over the past three years, properties near the smelter have been selling and at higher than their assessed values.

"This is what really matters to us is the transactions and the real estate sales that are happening in the area," he said.

The board will rule on Doucet's appeal within 60 days.


Occupational lead exposure affects nerves, brain

CanWest News Service

1st August 2007

A new study suggests people who are better readers have more protection from some of the effects of lead poisoning than those who do not read as [so] well.

The study, involving 112 Belledune, N.B., smelter workers with similar exposure to lead, was reported in the July 31 issue of Neurology, the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology.

Occupational lead exposure has negative effects on nerves and a number of areas of brain function.

Certain brain functions, however, seem to resist the effects of lead exposure better than others, the authors say.

One of these is reading ability, which is also an indicator of cognitive reserve -- or the brain's ability to function in spite of damage.

The study divided the workers into two groups based on education -- Grade 12 and higher and those with less than Grade 12. The authors measured each group's reading level, and participants were given tests to determine their degree of thinking and motor-skill impairment.

"Even though the two groups had similar lead exposure, the cognitive effects of lead were 2.5 times greater in workers with low reading ability," said author Margit L. Bleecker of the U.S.-based Center for Occupational and Environmental Neurology.

"In contrast, the effect of lead on motor speed was comparable in both groups." Bleecker said the findings suggest that greater cognitive reserve has a protective effect that allowed the workers to maintain their functioning, even though lead still affected their motor skills.

"This has been extensively studied in other neurological disorders -- Alzheimer's disease, stroke, other dementias, sleep apnea, traumatic brain injury. It's always the individuals with more cognitive reserve who are able to withstand the injury to the brain," she said.

Bleecker says there are several theories on how cognitive reserve protects against damage to the brain.

"These include an increased concentration of cortical synapses in larger brains that provide more brain capacity, a greater ease of using alternative brain circuits and the ability to process tasks more efficiently in current brain circuits," said Bleecker.

Exposure to lead can cause reduced cognitive ability, as well as nausea, abdominal pain, irritability, insomnia, paralysis, seizures and coma. It is also linked to anemia, and kidney and reproductive problems.

© The Vancouver Province 2007

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