British Columbia

Doctor concerned over lead exhaust from float planes

A Vancouver doctor is asking parents living near the city's float plane terminal to get their children's blood tested for lead levels, and to copy him on the results.

Doctor's letter to Coal Harbour residents urges that children's blood lead levels be assessed

Fraser Health chief medical officer encourages testing for lead 2:32

A Vancouver doctor is asking parents living near the city's float plane terminal to get their children's blood tested for lead levels, and to copy him on the results.

Dr. Paul Van Buynder wrote a letter that was distributed to residents in the Coal Harbour neighbourhood in the past week, urging parents of young children living nearest to the terminal to take the letter to their doctors and ask for blood lead tests.

"We know that some planes burn lead containing fuel and that lead is being deposited when no obvious other source exists," he wrote. "What is not clear is whether the area children are showing elevated blood lead levels because of this."

Too much exposure to the soft, dense metal can cause serious illness. High blood lead levels can also increase the risk of nervous system and kidney damage. In young children, who are most vulnerable to lead exposure, it can impair neurological development.

Van Buynder, a resident of the neighbourhood, is unsure how much lead exposure is occurring from the float plane activity, but says in the letter that "recent testing of dust on balconies confirmed that lead was being deposited there."

Van Buynder is also Chief Medical Health Officer for Fraser Health, but he wrote the letter as a private citizen. He wrote that he is a public health physician of more than 20 years who has "spent many years as a provincial medical lead on environmental health issues and risk assessments."

Residents group opposes terminal location

The letter was written on behalf of and distributed by the Coal Harbour Residents' Association, which has been concerned with noise and other negative impacts of the new Vancouver Harbour Flight Centre.

In the past, the neighbourhood group has lobbied to have the terminal moved to the east, on the other side of Canada Place.

Van Buynder says he wants to see copies of the blood lead level test results, in order to assess the overall risk of living in close proximity to the float plane terminal.

"The presence of elevated lead levels in children is treatable and would also be a mechanism for altering float plane activity as a public health risk," he wrote.

The area's MLA, Spencer Chandra Herbert, said Van Buynder's ties to the area don't mean that people should dismiss the issue he raises.

"I can understand why people would see it as a potential conflict, but the fact still remains that there is a real concern around health here that a medical professional has cited, and we need to see the tests done to see if that's actually factual or not."

However, Chandra Herbert says the B.C. government should be taking charge in terms of getting the lead tests done, not leaving it to residents to pursue.

The Coal Harbour Residents' Association refused an interview request from CBC News, as did Van Buynder.

A representative of Vancouver Coastal Health said it "is aware of the continued concern among Coal Harbour residents regarding the location of the float plane terminal and the associated issues around noise, air quality, etc." but is not aware of the lead dust testing on the balconies.

The health authority also said it "would welcome the opportunity to review the test results" of the blood lead levels of the neighbourhood's children.

The Vancouver Harbour Flight Centre says it abides by all provincial and federal regulations governing fuel.  

With files from the CBC's Meera Bains and Farrah Merali