Canadian government declines interviews on oilsands health impacts

Participants in a June 2014 "healing walk" around oilsands facilities stop near a pond filled with toxic tailings waste.

Participants in a June 2014 “healing walk” around oilsands facilities, close to Fort McMurray, Alberta, stop near a pond filled with toxic tailings waste.

Who are Health Canada’s experts assessing human health impacts of oilsands development? And why has the federal government never done a comprehensive study of health impacts in the region after more than half a century of industrial development?

These are among the questions I asked Health Canada in early July as part of my research for this oilsands story published this week.

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Stephen Harper’s government: Oilsands toxins like BBQ steak

Calgary author Chris Turner has written a book based on evidence that the federal government is allegedly muzzling its scientists.

Calgary author Chris Turner has written a book based on evidence that the federal government is allegedly muzzling its scientists.

Ten days ago, I asked Environment Canada whether any of its scientists would be available for interviews about their research.

The department hasn’t yet answered this question along with others.

The questions arose following the publication of a new study concluding that deposits of toxic mercury were forming a bull’s eye around oilsands operations in Alberta.

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Environment Canada confused by cuts, union letter says

Published by Postmedia News on Thursday Jun 21, 2012

OTTAWA – Senior management at Environment Canada offered “blank looks” and expressed confusion after being told that cuts to a team of pollution-monitoring scientists would compromise the department’s enforcement capabilities and the credibility of its international reports, says the president of the union that represents environment employees.

Environment Minister Peter Kent, who was in Rio de Janeiro Thursday for the United Nations conference on sustainable development, was not available for comment but indicated through a spokesman that his department is still taking a scientific approach to monitoring pollution.

Kent’s office did not address specific concerns raised in the letter sent by the Union of Environment Workers. The letter said that a soon-to-be-dismantled team of scientists had audited and validated data used in recent government inventory reports on greenhouse gas emissions and indicators of environmental sustainability in Canada.

“Again it seems that your government is not concerned with obtaining the facts and is ignoring the environmental impacts in lieu of paving the way for industry to self-regulate and manage its environmental affairs,” wrote Todd Panas, president of the union, in the letter sent to Kent on May 22.

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Budget cuts threaten federal green plan for oilsands and coal: scientist

Published by Postmedia News on Tuesday Jun 12 2012

OTTAWA – Budget cuts to a team of smokestack pollution specialists at Environment Canada could jeopardize the Harper government’s efforts to crack down on pollution from industries such as the oilsands and coal-fired electricity generation, warns a University of Guelph professor, who worked with the special unit of federal scientists.

Environment Minister Peter Kent has suggested, through a spokesman, the government could replace his department’s expertise by relying on outside sources such as the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

But Bill Van Heyst, an associate professor in environmental engineering who specializes in air quality, said the Environment Canada scientists provide a level of independence as well as unique expertise on Canadian industrial practices that the government would have trouble finding elsewhere as it attempts to boost environmental monitoring efforts in the oilsands region.

“If you don`t have a legitimate background in air quality or air quality testing then it`s really easy to make mistakes, and those mistakes are going to make everybody look, in the long run, really bad,” Van Heyst said in an interview with Postmedia News.

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Feds suggest U.S. EPA could replace Canadian pollution team

Published by Postmedia News on Sunday Jun 3 2012

OTTAWA – The federal government has suggested it could replace a team of smokestack pollution specialists by turning to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, appearing to contradict its own description of the scientists and their work on Environment Canada’s website.

The apparent contradiction comes as hundreds of charities and organizations across Canada will stage what they are calling a “Black out, Speak out” event on Parliament Hill on Monday, denouncing Prime Minister Stephen Harper and his government for adopting policies they describe as anti-environment and anti-democratic.

The government has projected savings of about $718,000 by eliminating its internal research capabilities on industrial emissions measurements. It also estimated it would need to spend about $115,000 to obtain and analyze data from other external sources, such as the EPA.

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Feds to cut air-pollution monitoring team

Published by Postmedia News on Friday May 25, 2012

OTTAWA – The federal government plans to break up a team of Environment Canada smokestack specialists that played a key role working with enforcement officers and industry to crack down on toxic pollution, a Postmedia News investigation has revealed.

Details of the cuts emerged through a series of leaked documents and interviews that revealed members of the Ottawa-based group of scientists were told their current roles would be eliminated over the next year.

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