Health Risks Underestimated by Soil Assessment Study in Sudbury

November 20, 2008, 3:03 PM EST


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Soil contamination levels in parts of the Greater Sudbury Area pose a greater risk to residents' health than initially assessed, according to a recent review of the Sudbury Human Health Risk Assessment commissioned by CAW Local 598 and United Steelworkers Local 6500.

The review, produced by non-profit organization Environmental Defence and authored by Dr. Kapil Khatter responded to concerns raised by the two unions that conclusions made in the assessment underestimated the harm associated with high levels of lead, nickel and arsenic in the soil. These metals are widely considered to have cancer-causing potential and increase the risk of severe health problems.

Dr. Khatter criticized the initial assessment conducted by the Sudbury Area Risk Assessment Group (SARA), stating it had made inappropriate estimations in determining what the acceptable level of risk should be for Sudbury residents exposed to these metals.

In his conclusion, Dr. Khatter remarks that the Sudbury Human Health Risk Assessment "goes beyond what a risk assessment can and should do," in deciding what the acceptable level of risk for the community should be and proposing to assure residents that the current levels of contamination are causing no harm.  

The assessment examined soil contamination levels in Greater Sudbury Area communities including smelter towns of Falconbridge, Coniston and Copper Cliff.

"The citizens of the Greater Sudbury community are not comfortable with how this six year study was conducted or with its results," said CAW Local 598 President Rick Grylls. 

"Sudbury resident who are exposed to dangerous metals, must be properly protected from health risks, especially our children. We will not be sold a bill of goods because of a poorly designed assessment."

To highlight the inaccuracies Grylls said that exposure to these hazardous metals at the workplace were not included in the final assessment.

In another instance, the assessment did not consider the above average levels of metal found in locally grown food an important risk because it was determined that most food eaten by Sudbury residents came from sources outside the community.

SARA is comprised of six organizations responsible for overseeing the risk assessment, including mining companies Vale Inco and Xstrata, as well as the Ministry of the Environment, the City of Sudbury, the Sudbury Health Unit and Health Canada.  

Dr. Khatter is scheduled to speak on the report at a public meeting in Sudbury on November 30.  The full report can be found at: http://www.toxicnation.ca/

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