Dr. Chris Wren – Sudbury Soil Study Author Counters Critics – Bill Bradley

Northern Life, Greater Sudbury’s community newspaper, gave Republic of Mining.com permission to post Bill Bradley’s article. www.northernlife.ca

The SARA Group, responsible for the Sudbury Soils Study, has hit back against its critics. www.sudburysoilsstudy.com

Last week, a group, calling itself the Community Committee on the Sudbury Soils Study, released a report by Dr. Kapil Khatter at Tom Davies Square. It was prepared by a nationally known pollution watchdog, Environmental Defence Canada. It stated the Human Health Risk Assessment (HHRA) report of the Sudbury Soils Study “cannot demonstrate there is no harm occurring, it can only estimate level of risk.”

That means the public remains uninformed about lead contamination, air levels of nickel, ingested arsenic from soils and the additional level of exposure mining workers face when they leave the workplace, said Rick Grylls, president of Mine Mill CAW Local 598 and a member of the group. Both Mine Mill CAW Local 598 and John Fera, president of Steelworkers Local 6500 have joined retired health and safety activist Homer Seguin, along with professors and health activists, to push for more government action on soil and water contamination from 100 years of mining.

According to Environmental Defence, Khatter is a family physician and environmental and health expert.

In an eight-page report, Khatter made a number of assertions that are puzzling, according to Chris Wren, the director of the SARA Group.

For example, Khatter claimed that some Greater Sudbury vegetables are so contaminated with lead, arsenic and nickel, that a ban on growing them should be considered.

“We stand by our report that says vegetables grown locally are safe to eat. We did not find samples that were 10 times the recommended levels. We need clarification from Dr. Khatter on what was referred to,” said Wren.

When Northern Life phoned Environmental Defence to find out how to reach Khatter for clarification on where in the data those values were, Northern Life was told Khatter was out of the country for three weeks.

Wren said his group did take into consideration those homeowners who tend to eat more of their produce from their gardens.

“If more than 10 per cent of the homeowners tended to eat their garden produce, we modeled for that,” he said.

Wren said he was frustrated by the release of the report and that no one, either Khatter or media sources other than Northern Life, had bothered to contact him or his group for their response.

“I am especially frustrated that Dr. Khatter did not contact us directly. Now he is traveling outside of Canada, unreachable for three weeks. How convenient,” said Wren.

“I have never heard of Dr. Khatter or his work. As a scientist I am used to peer review, but we have not been given any facts from Dr. Khatter,” said Wren.

Khatter wrote that the HHRA removed outliers (values very outside average ranges) in the soil measurements, “ignoring the highest readings out of statistical convention.” This means very high values are left out where the risk would be highest, he wrote. Wren said out of 10,000 samples there were only six outliers.

“This is like saying out of 100 samples, where parts per million of a metal ranged between 20 to 100, there was one sample that was 700. Statistically that is not significant,” said Wren.

Khatter accused the HHRA of subtracting background concentrations of metals, meaning that would underestimate the amount that local industry contributed.

“We did not subtract anything,” said Wren.

Khatter said that the elevated arsenic levels in Falconbridge constituted a threat.

“We agree there were higher values of arsenic in soil but we tested 350 individuals, the largest study of its kind in Canada to date. We found the levels of arsenic in the blood of Falconbridge residents were equal to those of residents in Hanmer, the control community.”

Khatter wrote the study did not use the latest data available. If they did they would have to increase the risk, he noted.

“We used Ontario Ministry of Environment data and published reports. We also took more recent reports into consideration in our analysis,” said Wren.

Khatter wrote the study failed to look at the total exposure to humans of all possible routes of exposure and focused on individual pathways, whether from soil or airborne sources.

“This is the current scientific way of doing this work. If Dr. Khatter has an alternative approach we would like to hear it,” said Wren.

Both Fera and Grylls said there is a need for the Ontario Ministry Of Environment and the Ontario Ministry of Labour to work together with the community to adequately test neighbourhoods and workers where exposure to heavy metals is highest.

Copies of the report are available at www.toxicnation.ca.

Environmental Defence Canada criticisms of Sudbury Soils Study report:

–  Lead contamination was found to be above safe levels in Copper Cliff, Coniston, Sudbury Centre and Falconbridge.

–  Lead is a probable carcinogen with no known threshold and therefore even the recommended maximum levels of exposure may increase cancer risks. This is contrary to the study’s conclusion that 400 micrograms per gram is not a high enough risk factor to human health.

–  Air levels of nickel are higher than recommended exposure limits for non-cancer and cancer effects in three communities.

–  Both soil and inhaled arsenic levels are significantly increased throughout most of the Greater Sudbury area.

–  There are still concerns that inhaled arsenic and specific types of ingested arsenic may put GSA residents at risk.