Health Professionals speak out on Trans Mountain Tanker Traffic

Prepared by Kaeleigh Phillips, February 18, 2019

CAPE BC member, Dr. Tim Takaro, who is an expert  in toxicology and public health, has updated a report on the health impacts that could result from an increase in tanker traffic on the west coast if the Trans Mountain pipelines is expanded in a new report entitled: Major Human Health Impacts of the Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain Pipeline Expansion.

“I updated my 2015 report because the National Energy Board (NEB) failed to respond to key evidence in that report” said Dr. Tim Takaro, speaking on behalf of the Burnaby Residents Opposing Kinder Morgan Expansion (BROKE) and the North Shore NO Pipeline Expansion (NS NOPE). “ This new report reiterates the evidence that was ignored and adds new evidence that has emerged since the 2015 filing.  For example, it includes an estimate of the number of Vancouver residents who would require evacuation following a tanker spill of diluted bitumen in Burrard Inlet.”

On August 30, 2018, the Federal Court of Appeal decided to revoke the construction approval given by the Cabinet to the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion project and Takaro’s 2015 report was filed with the National Energy Board (NEB) as part of the public comment process on the expansion project.

The purpose of this updated report is twofold:

  1. to demonstrate that the National Energy Board (NEB) recommendation report of May 19, 2016 does not adequately consider, nor address, the health impacts that could result from a 7-fold increase in tanker traffic through the First and Second Narrows and past the cities of Burnaby, Vancouver and North Vancouver; and
  2. to request that a robust, cumulative health impact assessment (HIA) be conducted as part of the consideration of the risk from increased tanker traffic.

Takaro’s report focuses on the acute and chronic health effects of exposure to two of the most potent chemicals found in crude oil and diluted bitumen (benzene and benzopyrene) and on the community level mental health impacts that could result from a major disaster in Burrard Inlet – outcomes that were inadequately accounted for by the Trans Mountain Expanded Pipeline(TMEP) human health risk assessment. It also describes the potential impact of two plausible worst-case scenarios of the TMEP – during extreme weather conditions and following a Second Narrows marine spill. Both scenarios would have detrimental effects on the residential population within the potentially affected areas.

The report identifies five key weaknesses in the human health risk assessment performed by the proponent’s contractor and used by the NEB in its May 2016 Recommendation Report:

  1. The impact of increased tanker traffic and subsequent increased risk to the environment and to the population that lives in Burrard Inlet was not assessed.

The increase in tanker traffic appears to be significantly greater than the seven-fold increase described by the proponent. Based upon the average number of tankers? per year during the period 2015 to 2017, it appears that the increase would be closer to twenty-fold. Burrard Inlet (through which these tankers must pass) contains three bridges and two dangerous narrows adjacent to downtown with a population over one million people.  It also has an informal shellfish and crab fishery and Indigenous communities who harvest from the Inlet whose close connection to the land makes them particularly vulnerable to environmental contamination.

  1. The proponent’s human health risk assessment did not adequately consider the high risk to specific vulnerable populations from benzene and benzopyrene.

Benzene and benzopyrene are carcinogens with no safe exposure levels. Highly sensitive populations would likely be exposed in the event of a spill in Burrard Inlet reinforcing the need for a comprehensive, cumulative health impacts assessment.

  1. The conditions considered by the NEB that related to health pertain only to monitoring, an after-the-fact “count-the-bodies” approach that is unacceptable today.

The original NEB review was set very far away from any population center despite the clear hazards of the increase in tankers through Vancouver’s busy harbor. Based upon similar accidents around the world, a major tanker spill (i.e., an Aframax tanker with an average capacity of 750,000 barrels) in Burrard Inlet would likely result in widespread exposure and cause significant acute and chronic health effects. An independent, comprehensive, cumulative health impacts assessment should be bounded by a worst-case spill scenario that occurs on a hot day with stagnant conditions similar to week long periods in Burrard Inlet in the summers of 2017 and 2018. It should include the temperature increase projected for the Inlet which have been modeled for Burrard Inlet out to 2080 the approximate life-span of the project.

  1. Certain outcomes (i.e., risk of childhood leukemia and lung cancer in clean-up workers) were inadequately accounted for by the TMEP human health risk assessment.

Research conducted after major tanker spills around the world show that such incidents result in widespread exposure and cause  acute and chronic health effects.

  1. Mental health impacts were not assessed for the populations likely to be affected by a large spill in Burrard Inlet.

Research has identified that oil spills have significant impacts on the mental health of individuals and communities where they happen. The most frequently documented effects are anxiety, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

“There are significant shortcomings in the evidence base on health impacts that the NEB used and there is a need for an independent comprehensive, cumulative human health impacts assessment” Dr. Takaro concluded.

Under the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act, 2012, the Government of Canada has a mandate to protect the environment and human health and to apply the precautionary principle. To fulfill this mandate, any risk assessment of a fossil energy project should consider the upstream and downstream contribution to mortality and morbidity due to climate change of wildfires, heat events, air pollution, sea-level rise, flooding, water contamination, drought, food shortages, shifting infectious diseases, illness and injury from extreme weather events, mental health impacts, forced migration and related conflict, as well as the risks that climate change poses to healthcare structures and health-related supply chains.

“We – those who belong to BROKE and NS NOPE – are therefore requesting that a robust, cumulative health impact assessment be conducted that takes into consideration the populations of the Inlet, the potential exposures and impacts that could result from higher temperatures and extreme weather conditions predicted for the Inlet by mid-century due to climate change, and the health impacts of the project on climate change both locally and globally”, said Dr. Takaro.