OTHER VOICES: Moodyville air quality study warrants closer look

Dear Editor:

If you had just read the North Shore News headline Moodyville Air Study Shows Clean Results (May 4 front page) and seen the mayor’s declaration that the mobile air monitoring unit “showed air quality in Moodyville was very similar to other areas in Metro Vancouver and below the levels it needed to be,” one might deduce that whether you lived in the backyard of the port or you were snuggled up against the mountains in Grouse Woods, we were all breathing the same beautiful mountain fresh North Shore air.

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The news story and the mayor’s platitudes are largely based on three of the four key points gleaned from the executive summary of the report. Yes, the monitoring study showed that pollutant levels in Moodyville were below Metro Vancouver’s air quality objectives and levels of carbon monoxide, sulphur dioxide, nitrogen dioxide, ground level ozone, fine particulate matter and black carbon were similar to other areas. Finally, Moodyville did register higher levels of inhalable particulates during the air quality advisory due to forest fires for a short time in August.

However, what the story downplayed but is most concerning for the neighbourhood is that, after the smoke had cleared, the MAMU detected “generally higher monthly concentration averages of inhalable particulate matter compared to other network stations” (Metro Van Report, page 21).

The report concludes that the higher levels were due to a combination of local construction, road dust and industrial emissions. And while Roger Quan of Metro Vancouver cautioned in the North Shore News that the science behind measuring the coal content in these inhalable particulates is not perfect, the mere fact that coal levels are elevated is significant and should not be glossed over, especially when the per cent of individual particles were never less than 34 per cent in the coarse sample and as high as 94 per cent in the fine particulate matter.

Experts in the public health field have warned that any level of exposure is far from benign, having some impact on the risk of heart and lung disease and other ill health effects. According to Dr. Michael Brauer, professor at the School of Population and Public Health at UBC’s Faculty of Medicine, coal export environmental impact assessments generally rely on the flawed assumption that there are safe levels of exposure to these pollutants below which no impact will occur.

In Brauer’s assessment of the Moodyville air quality study, he says, “the neighbourhood is not unusually poor or unusually clean, although there is clearly some influence of marine vessels and industrial activities more generally and some influence of the coal dust specifically that would not be seen in other areas.”

He goes on to say that “while the ‘coarse’ particulate matter produced from mechanical processes is generally less hazardous, it is certainly not completely benign compared to particles from combustion sources.” While Brauer assures that the overall air quality is good, he recommends the community continue to advocate for measures to reduce the local impacts from industrial sources and associated activities, including ships and the coal terminal itself.

As the resident of Moodyville who arranged for the MAMU to be deployed on our street, long before the City of North Vancouver council became involved through the Low Level Road Committee, it is my hope for the few long-term residents and the 4,000 new ones moving in that they will not tolerate the mayor’s cherry picking of the study’s results to suit his redevelopment agenda.

The residents will need to use this vital data to continue to fight for a cleaner airshed. After all, they will have been sold on a new sustainable community in which they do not expect to breathe in the diesel and coal dust from the port while they furiously wash it off their carbon neutral townhouse decks.

Barbara Taylor
North Vancouver

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