Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Study Finds Air Quality Problems around First Nation Oilsands Community

Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Study Finds Air Quality Problems around First Nation Oilsands Community

Article excerpt

Study finds air problems around oilsands

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FORT MCKAY, Alta. - A major study of air quality in a northern Alberta indigenous community surrounded by oilsands development suggests there is a chance ongoing exposure to airborne chemicals may be damaging people's health.

The study by Alberta Health and the province's energy regulator has found more than a dozen chemicals push past environmental and odour thresholds at least some of the time in Fort McKay First Nation.

"The report did find the air in Fort McKay does, at times, contain substances at levels above what is recommended for human health," said Karen Grimsrud, Alberta's chief medical officer of health.

"What the report does not answer is how these air quality events might affect human health."

The study, which took 18 months to complete, looked into 172 air quality complaints from Fort McKay, about 50 kilometres north of Fort McMurray, between 2010-2014. Fort McKay is surrounded by seven major oilsands mines within 30 kilometres.

It found few examples of dangerous, short-term releases. But it found a suite of potentially dangerous hydrocarbons that are in the air at levels that pose concerns about long-term and cumulative effects.

"It's the intermittent poor air quality, the cumulative effects we need to look at," said Grimsrud.

Using data from a variety of local, provincial and federal monitoring sources, the report found a total of 13 chemicals that breach odour and health-based thresholds.

They include toxins like hydrogen sulphide and carcinogens like benzene. Ozone and sulphur dioxide were "frequently" above long-term health thresholds.

"Yes, we are very concerned," said Jim Boucher, chief of the Fort McKay First Nation.

"It's been a cause for concern for the people of this community since 1966. Now we have finally arrived at a process to resolve those concerns."

The report contains 17 recommendations, most addressing the need for better monitoring and more research to track the source of the chemicals. …

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