Doctors oppose waste incinerator

Physicians call for full environmental review

By James Risdon (Telegraph-Journal)
Monday, Dec. 1, 2003

Doctors and medical associations in both Quebec and New Brunswick are slamming what they see as this province's bungling and irresponsible handling of a proposed incinerator to treat contaminated soils in Belledune.

In a press conference at the Belledune cultural centre today at 6 p.m., Dr. Philippe Aubin and at least eight of his colleagues are expected to denounce the human health risk assessment for Bennett Environmental Inc.'s proposed plant. The doctors are calling it "bad science."

The doctors are also expected to call on the provincial government to demand a full environmental impact assessment of the project and a series of public hearings.

"We are members of medical societies and all the medical societies from Gaspé through to the Acadian Peninsula have voted resolutions that there, first of all, be an environmental impact assessment before construction proceeds further on this project and that there also be public hearings," Dr. Aubin said Sunday.

Although Bennett Environmental has submitted a human health risk assessment, the doctors are saying that study is riddled with holes and based on bad science.
"Quackery is not acceptable in medicine and it should not be acceptable with the health of the population," said Dr. Aubin.

The doctors at today's press conference come from communities all along the Bay of Chaleur in both Gaspé and northern New Brunswick. Most of them are working in New Brunswick as family doctors, surgeons and ophthalmologists.

They maintain that the province's recent announcement of a study to determine the extent and impact on human health of existing pollution in Belledune is an example of the province doing things backwards.

Dr. Aubin said the existing level of pollution in Belledune should have been determined first, before adding any more.
"The province is extremely reckless because it has not taken into consideration that this is already an extremely polluted area," he said.

Dr. Aubin, who lives in a community across Bay of Chaleur from the proposed Bennett Environmental project, figures pollution from the contaminated soil treatment plant could have a direct impact on him. But the family physician from Maria, Que., is not alone. Since the Bennett Environmental project was announced, about 45,000 people on both sides of the provincial border have signed petitions calling for an environmental impact assessment (EIA).

New Brunswick's Liberal Party has also come out strongly in favour of an EIA. "The government has mishandled this file from day one," Bathurst Liberal MLA Brian Kenny said Sunday. "We've asked the government for an EIA. I just want the facts, and right now, it's hard to find out what those facts are."

Environment and Local Government Minister Brenda Fowlie, however, has not called for a full environmental impact assessment for the Bennett project. "Democracy is sick and she needs to be restored to health when a petition with more than 40,000 names is presented to the environment minister and she refuses to receive it or to meet with the people bringing it to her," said Dr. Aubin.

Bennett Environmental's $23 million facility in the Renviro Industrial Park in Belledune is already under construction and needs only its operating permit. In the Chaleur region, business leaders with the Greater Bathurst Chamber of Commerce and several mayors, including Belledune Mayor Joe Noel, have come out strongly in favour of the project. These community leaders have stated repeatedly that they think the Bennett Environmental plant will be safe and provide jobs as well as trigger further economic development.

Dr. Aubin doesn't buy that assessment. "There is a reason why they want to build this here and it's because Americans, as a whole, will not permit such a project near their populated centres," he said.