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Oil and gas health risk low says B.C. Ministry of Health study

03/27/2015 01:12 EDT | Updated 05/27/2015 05:59 EDT
A boom in oil and gas development in B.C.'s northwest has some residents concerned about the health impacts on the air they breathe and the water they drink, but a new report commissioned by the B.C. Ministry of Health found the impact minimal — assuming everything goes according to plan.

"We looked at a lot of different chemicals. We looked at all potential exposure pathways and then we found that the health risks were low to the residents of northeastern B.C.," said Bart Koppe, a senior environmental health scientist with Intrinsik Envrionmental and Health Science Consulting — the company hired to do the research.

The research was only focused on regular, ongoing emissions, and didn't look at potential risks of emergencies, such as a gas leak. 

"Instead of quantitatively assessing it, we looked at it through the regulatory framework that's currently in place in B.C. to get a sense as to whether or not there are regulations there that adequately protect against those types of events," he said.

The study did make a number of regulatory recommendations including testing groundwater before drilling begins and better monitoring of air quality.

Still, Koppe said he's confident the risk to residents is minimal.

"It was an extensive study, and it was done using an approach that's been developed over time by agencies like Health Canada, the World Health Organization and the U.S. [Environmental Protection Agency]," he said.

"Whenever we are in doubt, we err on the side of caution meaning that we are overestimating the human health risks and by doing that, we do have the comfort level that when we do say that health risks are low, we're confident that they're low."

To hear the full interview with Bart Koppe, click the audio labelled: B.C. government research finds health risks of oil and gas development minimal.

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