community assets

Schools, Parks, Children, Care Homes/Hospitals, and Seniors

Numerous studies confirm that emissions pose a health risk to people who live near highways and ports, especially children, pregnant women, the elderly and asthmatics. A recent article published in the Journal of Environmental Health, states that “adverse health effects have been associated with residential proximity to traffic” (“Potential health” 2008). For this project, we assumed that it is not only residential proximity, but daily proximity to traffic at work, school, and during leisure activities, that would also contribute to adverse health effects.

A review of the studies show that close proximity to traffic emissions may be linked to respiratory, pulmonary and cardiovascular illnesses, adverse birth outcomes, and cancer (“Potential health” 2008). Diesel exhaust, a traffic emission which comes primarily from container truck traffic, has been shown to be particularly dangerous to people’s health. In the BC Ministry of Tranportation’s Local Air Quality Impact Assessment, Technical Volume 7, pg. 50, it states that the short-term health effects of diesel exhaust inhalation include headaches, eye, nose, throat, and bronchial irritation, fatigue, stomach aches, nausea and compromised pulmonary function (2006). All of these adverse health effects have been found to be present for roads with traffic levels as low as 5500-9000 vehicles/day (“Potential health” 2008).

The BC Ministry of Transportation’s Regional Air Quality Impact Assessment, Technical Volume 16, pg. 51, states that “human health is the second largest category impacted by the Gateway program” and that the “economic impact is [expected to be] very high because the estimated economic damages from PM 2.5 (Diesel particulate matter 2.5 microns and smaller) [and] related health problems per tonne of PM 2.5 emissions are substantial” (2006). This same report also notes that “There is growing epidemiological evidence that increased cardiorespiratory mortalities follow increased ambient concentrations of diesel particulate matter” (2006).

As mentioned in our methodology, we decided that a 1km buffer was most appropriate for determining which areas are most vulnerable to the construction of the SFPR. In our project, we found that 11 schools and 2 care homes fall within 1km of the proposed SFPR. We also found that 550 911meters2 of parks and recreational areas fall within this boundary as well. Using Statistics Canada data, at the scale of Dissemination Areas, we estimated that due to the construction of the SFPR, approximately 11 500 children (0-14 years of age) would be exposed to higher levels of air pollution due to the location of their homes. This number does not reflect the number of children attending one of the

11 schools within 1km of the proposed SFPR living outside of the 1km buffer zone. Similarly, we found that approximately 5800 seniors (70+ years of age) would be exposed to a higher level of air pollution as a result of SFPR construction.

For more information on harmful pollutants from vehicle emissions, see the section below on Nitrogen Dioxide (NO2) and Particulate Matter (PM2.5).

Streams and Rivers

The proposed SFPR would fall within 1km of three different sloughs, as well as parts of Boundary Bay. Most significant, however, is the proximity of the proposed alignment of the SFPR to the Fraser River. 28.75 km of the Fraser River would be within 1km of the proposed SFPR.

The impacts of the SFPR on the Fraser River, both during its construction and its use, would be extremely detrimental; especially to populations of salmon, which are already in a fragile state. The Fraser River is the largest salmon producing river in Canada (Farrell et al. 2008), however, the location of the SFPR would interfere with both ocean-bound juvenile salmon and stream-bound spawning salmon.

Sediment from highway construction can clog the gills of salmon causing damage to feeding abilities and oxygen intake. This can cause a high level of stress, which may eventually result in the salmon’s death (Lake & Hinch 1999). The construction process also brings with it many harmful pollutants that leech into nearby waterways. This includes chemical pollution from heavy machinery as well as toxic material used in construction (Campbell 2009). Highways also accumulate pollutants such as zinc, iron, lead, calcium, nickel, copper, chromium, phosphorus and petroleum (Wheeler et al. 2005) that are then transported by storm water runoff. These pollutants can be life threatening to salmon. For example, exposure to PCB’s in salmon can trigger early migration. Because early migration happens in warmer waters, and because salmon are extremely sensitive to temperature, this can result in early death (Couillard et al. 2008). Copper is another example of an extremely harmful pollutant to salmon. Copper runoff damages the olfactory senses that salmon rely upon in order to detect food and to navigate (Couillard et al 2008). Even a very moderate level of exposure to copper is enough to cause permanent damage in salmon (Ibid. 2008).

All of these impacts on salmon indirectly affect us as humans, especially those of us living in Metro Vancouver. One way is through our health, which becomes threatened through the consumption of contaminated fish. Another way is through our economy, where in the 2009 run we already saw sockeye fisheries having to close in July. This

caused problems for First Nations communities who are dependent upon salmon as a source of food, as well as those who depend upon salmon for their livelihood.

Burns Bog

Burns Bog is a globally unique ecosystem. It is approximately 6500 acres, which is about 8X the size of Stanley Park. It is often referred to as “the lungs of the Lower Mainland” due to its carbon-storing and oxygen-producing abilities. Burns Bog is one of the reasons we currently enjoy such clean air in Metro Vancouver. Due to the mountainous geography of the Lower Mainland, our air is highly susceptible to the accumulation of pollution; particularly smog. As Burns Bog shrinks due to encroaching development, it looses its ability to clean our air. Our results show how the construction of Highways 91 and 99 has already caused Burns Bog to shrink significantly in size. With the addition of the SFPR, Burns Bog would be surrounded by freeway on all sides, cut off from the surrounding land.

The exact implications of this in terms of the bog and its survival are largely unknown; however, they do not seem favourable. Burns Bog functions as a single living organism (Burns 1997), so the smaller it gets, the less chance the entire bog has of surviving. The British Columbia government and the Delta Fraser Properties Partnership financed a study of the bog in 1999, which concluded that "2,450 of the 2,800 hectares of ecologically available area are required to preserve the ecological integrity and viability of Burns Bog" (“B.C. Environmental” 2000). This means that once Burns Bog is less than 2,450 hectares in size, it will no longer be able to function as a bog. Currently, 2,042ha are under a Conservation Covenant (“Metro Vancouver”, n.d.), with this land being owned by four different levels of government. While this area can not be developed, due to the nature of the bog, this land is still highly vulnerable to any development that occurs beyond its boundary. Once its threshold for survival has been reached, the remaining parts of Burns Bog would likely transition into a forest, grassland, or shrubland environment.

The potential impacts of this are huge. Because Burns Bog is composed primarily of partially decomposed plant material, called peat, it is a huge carbon and methane sink. These are both very potent greenhouse gases. In fact, the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) has declared that the preservation and restoration of peat bogs is the easiest way to try and mitigate climate change throughout the world (“Burns Bog” 2007). If Burns Bog were to be developed beyond its threshold of survival, it would therefore release huge amounts of carbon and methane that has been stored in it for thousands of years. At the same time, it would no longer function as effectively as a carbon sink, nor release as much oxygen, compromising its function as “the lungs of the Lower Mainland”. As a result, air pollution would become much worse. The construction of the SFPR means Burns Bog would be surrounded on all sides by freeways. In this scenario, it seems unlikely that the bog will be able to continue functioning properly to clean our air.

Burns Bog is also home to a number of unique plant and animal species, including many species which are listed by the provincial government as either endangered (red-listed) or vulnerable (blue-listed). These include species such as the Greater Sandhill Crane (red-listed), the Great Blue Heron (blue-listed), the Pacific Water Shrew (red-listed), the Red-backed Vole (red-listed), the Peregrine Falcon (blue-listed), the Purple Martin (red-listed), and the Red-legged Frog (red-listed) (“Delta Burns” 2010). Not only would the SFPR cut off any route for animals wishing to leave and enter the bog, increasing the likelihood of animals becoming road kill, but the potential impacts of air pollution on the animals that live there are also of concern.

The deposition of aerial pollution, particularly mineral materials, is another concern when it comes to the biology of the bog. How dust and emissions will impact the nutrient dynamics of Burns Bog’s highly sensitive ecosystem is something that needs to be researched further. However, it can be seen from the construction of Highways 91 and 99 that the introduction of new nutrients into the low-nutrient bog environment has increased the forest “lagg” zone around the perimeter of the bog. Essentially, this means the introduction of new minerals has shrunk the bog in size.

While a mitigation strategy to protect Burns Bog from the impacts of the SFPR is in place, the environmental stewardship branch of Environment Canada has stated that “the changes (involved with Gateway's mitigation strategy) are not sufficient to alleviate concerns related to the impacts of the project on Pacific Water Shrew (PWS), hydrology, aerial deposition, and the ecological integrity of Burns Bog".

Agricultural Land Reserve

Agricultural land in British Columbia is protected under the Agricultural Land Reserve. Already, 90 hectares of agricultural land has been removed from the ALR for the construction of the SFPR (“Agricultural Land” 2008). Our results found that 6,383 acres of protected agricultural land in Metro Vancouver falls within 1km of the proposed SFPR and would be made vulnerable to air pollution.

Air pollution is very damaging to agricultural crops. In Metro Vancouver, farmers already loose an estimated 15-20% of their crops due to air pollutants (Passmore, 2010). In particular, particulate matter (PM) from diesel trucks can cause plants to wilt and die (“Ontario Ministry” 2009). Particulate matter on a plants surface also makes the plant more susceptible to disease (“Environment Canada” 2003). Although not all plants will spoil, they still carry the particulate, both on their surfaces and in their veins (Passmore, 2010). Ingesting particulate matter is a direct threat to human health.

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environmental justice


Our results on the following maps show that there is no issue of environmental justice when it comes to the proposed alignment of the SFPR. The SFPR does not appear to go through particularly low-income neighbourhoods, nor neighbourhoods with large immigrant populations. 

The SFPR’s Proximity to Immigrant Populations

We were interested to see if there was a significant correlation between the level of immigrants and the proposed route of the SFPR. Our results show that the area within 1km of the SFPR does not contain a significantly greater number of immigrants than elsewhere in Metro Vancouver. However, once the SFPR has been constructed, the housing values surrounding it will be lowered. This will likely result in more immigrants moving to this area.

The SFPR’s Proximity to Low-Income Neighbourhoods

We were interested to see if there was a significant correlation between average household income and the proposed route of the SFPR. Our results show that (for 2006 census data) the area within 1km of the SFPR has an average household income of $76,899 while the average household income for all of Metro Vancouver is $73,258. These numbers are very similar. However, it can be seen that a significant portion of the households living along the Eastern part of the SFPR route fall in the lowest income bracket. It is along this portion of the route that the government has appropriated and expropriated homes to make room for the construction of the SFPR. 

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Nitrogen Dioxide (NO2) and Particulate Matter 2.5 (PM2.5)

Our results show that levels of NO2 along existing truck routes in Metro Vancouver have a mean of 12.5 ppb, while the mean level of NO2 along the proposed SFPR route is currently 8.1 ppb. Because of this, we predict that there would be an approximate increase of 4.4 ppb of NO2 along with the construction of the SFPR.

NO2 is a harmful pollutant to both human and animal health, and is a primary contributor to smog formation. A large proportion of the NO2 found in cities comes from vehicle exhaust (“Australian Government” 2009). Raised levels of NO2 increase the likelihood of respiratory illness, lowering the body’s immunity to lung infections causing wheezing, coughing, colds, flu’s, and bronchitis (Ibid. 2009). Increased levels of NO2 impact people with asthma the most, increasing the severity and frequency of attacks (Ibid. 2009).

For PM2.5, our results show that along existing truck routes in Metro Vancouver, there is a mean level of 7.9 ppb, while along the proposed SFPR route there is currently a mean level of 7.9 ppb. Because PM tends to disperse much more than NO2, it is difficult to predict how much PM would increase as a result of the SFPR using this same method of comparison. In order to more accurately predict how much levels of PM2.5 would increase as a result of the SFPR, a more complex multivariate analysis including the SFPR freeway would need to be conducted.

PM2.5 is the single most harmful pollutant to human and animal health. Because particles are so fine (about 1/20th the width of a strand of hair), they are able to penetrate deep into the lungs, causing inflammation, irritation, and damage to the lungs and even premature death. Below is a comprehensive review of the human health impacts of PM2.5:

Numerous studies have linked PM to aggravated cardiac and respiratory (heart and lung) diseases such as asthma, bronchitis and emphysema and to various forms of heart disease. Children and the elderly, as well as people with respiratory disorders such as asthma, are particularly susceptible to health effects caused by PM.

Scientists now believe that there is no "threshold," or safe level, for exposure to PM. Particulate matter is not limited to urban areas. Exposure to PM in Canada is widespread, and it remains a problem in every region of Canada all year round. A correlation has been established between high levels of airborne PM and increases in emergency room visits, hospital admissions and deaths.

PM is also an effective delivery mechanism for other toxic air pollutants, which attach themselves to particulate matter that floats in the air. These toxics are then delivered into the lungs, where they can be absorbed into the blood and tissue" (“Environment Canada” 2003).