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Disease rates in oil and gas region show need for monitoring

Air monitoring in northeastern British Columbia is a step in the right direction, said the author of a new report on how the province's oil and gas industry may be affecting people's health.

"We really don't know what's out there," said Judi Krzyzanowski, whose report says there are higher rates of several illnesses in the region which is home to the province's oil and gas development.

Compared to Vancouver and the northwest of the province, the northeast has higher rates of asthma, lung cancer and respiratory disease, the report published by NRC Research Press said. While there might be other explanations, such as higher rates of cigarette smoking, the diseases are consistent with what you'd expect from exposure to contaminants from the oil and gas industry, it said.

"We don't know enough, and there are higher incidences of these sorts of ailments in northeast B.C.," said Krzyzanowski, an Ontario-based consultant who studied the impacts of oil and gas development on air quality for her PhD in forestry from the University of B.C..

"It deserves some more attention and monitoring of what's ending up in the environment, people's air, water and food," she said.

On June 6 the B.C. government released a report on the first phase of a three phase project responding to health concerns related to the industry in the northeast. At the same time it announced it would begin a three-year "air monitoring and community engagement" project in the region.

The project will begin with air monitoring in two priority rural locations in the South Peace, and a coordinator will be funded to plan the wider network, the announcement said.

Krzyzanowski said she's been advocating for eight years for increased air monitoring and is encouraged by the government's decision. However, much depends on how much monitoring equipment is use and where it is placed, she said.

Andrew MacLeod is The Tyee’s Legislative Bureau Chief in Victoria. Find him on Twitter or reach him here.

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