Open Letter on the Health Impacts of the Site C dam

Site C Dam Garth Lenz-9761

(photo source:

To: The Honourable John Horgan, Premier, the Honourable Michelle Mungall, Minister of Energy, Mines and Petroleum Resources, the Honourable George Heyman, Minister of Environment and Climate Change Strategy, and the Honourable Scott Fraser, Minister of Indigenous Relations and Reconciliation, BC Cabinet Ministers, and Andrew Weaver, MLA

From: BC chapter of Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment

Re: The Health Impacts of Site C

We are writing regarding the Site C dam project. We feel compelled to express that this project is not in the interests of public good or public health in BC and for that reason should not be allowed to proceed.

We thank the government for initiating the BC Utilities Commission (BCUC) Inquiry into the Site C dam to gather expert and public evidence, as well as First Nations opinions and insights.  The resulting report has stated it is unlikely B.C. will need the energy from the Site C dam, calling previous projections “excessively optimistic” noting that it is possible that demand might be lower than the lowest demand scenario used by BC Hydro. Additionally, the commissioners feel that it is unlikely the Site C project will be on time or on budget [1].

We feel that your government should respect the findings of the appointed regulator with oversight of these matters for many reasons, particularly in light of the continued, broad-based opposition from First Nations, farmers, Amnesty International and academic scientists.

This mega-project will further disrupt and displace First Nations who have lived in the Peace River Valley for thousands of years.  A joint federal-province environmental impact assessment concluded it would “severely undermine use of the land, make fishing unsafe for at least a generation, and submerge burial grounds and other crucial cultural and historical sites.” [2] Amnesty International currently has a petition on-line signed by over 70,000 Canadians asking for a halt to Site C because it is grossly unfair to Canada’s First Nations. In their report it is stated:

“Intensive resource development in northeast BC has created a lot of high wage jobs in the region. But the rapid pace of development and the necessity of bringing in thousands upon thousands of temporary and transient workers to fill these jobs has also created serious social problems that are not being properly dealt with. Problems like a severe housing shortage, a shortage of doctors, and a shortage of quality, affordable day care. Problems like an enormous gulf in wages between women and men. Problems like rampant drug and alcohol abuse. Problems like overstretched police forces and underfunded and overworked social service agencies.” [3]

Currently, most industrial projects in northeast B.C. are assessed without regard for other past, present or future impacts. Studies from UNBC [4] and SFU [5] have identified that the cumulative effects of intense industrial development, including “two large-scale hydroelectric dams, 11 mines (gold-copper, coal), 8,000 oil and gas well sites, eight wind farms, various support facilities, 10,000 pipelines, numerous power lines, and smaller uses such as agriculture and guide-outfitting” erode Indigenous rights, mental health and traditional ways of life and culture.


A 2014 report by the David Suzuki Foundation outlines the concerns that the area flooded by Site C has been recognised as a continental-scale conservation priority for the habitat of endangered species such as caribou, grizzlies, and other large migratory animals [6]. This ecological destruction and loss of traditional food sources will have great impacts on life for the culture and way of life of First Nations Peoples. These massive alterations of natural landscape are known to evoke a powerful sense of solastalgia, a term that connotes a sense of painful loss of one’s home, while still living in it [4].


Farmland in BC is under constant threat from development, while approximately 12% of BC households are experiencing food insecurity [7], putting children and adults at risk for malnutrition, chronic disease, and depression. At the same time, because of climate change, the areas we most depend on for foods are experiencing disruptive new weather patterns. It makes very little sense then to flood farmland that could potentially feed one quarter of BC’s population [8] with healthy produce, farmland centred in an area of the province where food insecurity is high.

Further, on an economic note, the David Suzuki Foundation estimates that the dollar value of the farmland and nature ecosystem services provided by the Peace River Watershed are conservatively worth between $7.9 and $8.6 Billion per year [6].

Despite the previous government’s relentless promotion of Site C as “clean energy”, recent science calls into question how clean hydroelectricity really is [9].

Hydroelectric dams result in the generation of huge amounts of methane gas, a greenhouse gas, approximately 40-times more potent than carbon dioxide over 100 years, when these dams result in the flooding of large tracts of fertile land. The Peace Valley contains agricultural land of the richest and highest quality in the province. The Union of Concerned Scientists have calculated that other forms of alternative energy, such as solar[10, 11], are much cleaner than hydroelectricity.

If the need for hydroelectric energy arises in the future, the BCUC has suggested the province amend the Clean Energy Act, and consider the use of electricity available under the Columbia River Treaty [12]. This option was explicitly and deliberately ignored by the previous government.

Concern has been expressed about the loss of jobs associated with this project. At the BCUC hearings, representatives of the Sierra Club suggested money saved from stopping dam construction should go to training workers into sustainable energy or other industries that specifically provide more long-term job stability. In addition, a 2016 report from the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives has outlined how a major push for public and private retrofitting and transit expansion could create thousands of long-term, well-paying jobs and expand the cheapest and most effective way to reduce greenhouse gas production energy conservation [13].

For all of these reasons, we believe that the BC government should not go forward with the Site C dam.

Finally, we repeat our recommendation that the BC government undertake a comprehensive and cumulative health impact assessment of BC’s energy systems, its energy exports, and alternative energy scenarios. The absence of such health-related information means that BC will be making energy policy decisions based on incomplete information, thereby possibly adversely affecting the health of the citizens of BC.


The BC members of the Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment.


[1] British Columbia Hydro and Power Authority – British Columbia Utilities Commission Inquiry Respecting Site C – Project No. 1598922 – Final ReportBC Utilities Report

[2] Review Panel Established by the Federal Minister of the Environment and the British Columbia Minister of the Environment. Report of the Joint Review Panel – Site C Clean Energy Project. 1 May 2014. P. 102.

 [3] Amnesty International (2016). The Point of No return: The Human Rights of Indigenous Peoples In Canada Threatened by the Site C Dam.

[4] Booth, AL and Skelton, NW. (2011). “You spoil everything!’’ Indigenous peoples

and the consequences of industrial development in British Columbia. Environ Dev Sustain.

[5] Gislason, MK and Anderson, HK. (2016). The Interacting Axes of Environmental, Health, and Social Justice Cumulative Impacts: A Case Study of the Blueberry River First Nations. Healthcare (Baseline).

[6] Moola, Faisal. (2017). David Suzuki Foundation, Presentation to Site C Inquiry Panel October 13th 2017

[7] Public health Services Authourity (2013). British Columbia Houshold Food Insecurity  in 2011-2012.


[9] Magill, B (2014). Methane Emission May Swell from Behind dams. Scientific American.

[10] Union of Concerned Scientists (2013). Environmental Impacts of Solar Power.

[11] Union of Concerned Scientists (2013). Environmental Impacts of Hydroelectric Power.

[12] McCullough, Robert (2017). Report: Costs of Continuing Site C and the Alternatives.

[13] Klein, S. (2016) A Good Jobs Economy in BC. Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives.

For more information on health issues in BC and Canada see

Getting Ecological Health Factors into the Election Debate


Information and Questions prepared by BC volunteer committee of CAPE

(Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment)

A healthy environment is critical to the health of British Columbians. Yet the intersection of environment, climate change and health is often left out of the conversation as we decide on who will make decisions which shape the health of our citizens, and the citizens of the world, for decades to come. Therefore, volunteer members of the Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment BC (BC CAPE) have compiled resources, ideas, and questions to be presented to candidates in the upcoming 2017 provincial election. These centre on five major issues:

  • Fracking in BC
  • Public Transportation
  • Carbon Taxation
  • Site C Dam
  • Kinder Morgan Pipeline

We are providing you with some background information on these five issues so that you can be better informed about the health aspects of some of the major environmental issues of the day. We hope that by providing you with this information that you can help ensure that our government will make decisions in the best interest of the people of BC.


There are numerous ways you can get involved with making health and the environment important topics in the upcoming election. They include, but are not limited to:

  • Making an appointment with your current MLA and/ or other candidates and asking them questions (see below) – this is sometimes easier with a group
  • Attending an all-candidates meeting and asking questions
  • Emailing your candidates to ask your questions
  • Writing a letter to the editor of your local paper about one of these issues, or another environmental issue you care about
  • Using Social Media. While at your computer, use online social media tools like Facebook, Twitter, or blogs. Most party leaders and MLAs have Facebook or Twitter sites where you can send them messages or write on their “wall”, and most online newspapers have blogs where you can comment on current stories
  • Sharing this resource with concerned fellow citizens via email, Facebook, Twitter, etc.
  • Voting and encouraging your friends and family to vote


  • For more information about how to vote check out Inclusion BC’s resource kit:

Hydraulic Fracturing (fracking)/Liquified Natural Gas  (LNG)

Does your party support the proliferation of the fracking industry in BC?

Hydraulic fracturing (fracking) is the method by which natural gas  is forced out of the ground. It is then transported to the coast via pipelines and compressed into a gas (LNG) before being loaded on ships for transport overseas.

Each fracking procedure uses more than 10,000,000 litres of clean water, potentially contaminating it with carcinogenic, hormone-disrupting and radioactive chemicals. Most of the water stays underground or is collected at the site for removal. The Environmental Protection Agency in the US has found instances contamination of drinking water, but they were unable to quantify how much because of gaps in the data.  Long-term potential for contamination remains unknown.

Some recent studies have revealed the following:

  • Studies from 3 counties in Pennsylvania showed fracking well density was correlated with increased hospitalizations for cardiac issues, as well as an association between prevalence rates for the medical categories of dermatology, neurology, oncology, and urology.
  • People in northeastern BC, where the oil and gas industry is mainly located, suffer from higher rates of chronic lung disease and cancer than people elsewhere in the province.
  • Jurisdictions that have banned or put a moratorium on fracking for health reasons include:
    • Quebec, Newfoundland and Labrador; Nova Scotia, New Brunswick
    • France, Germany, Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland, Bulgaria

BC has legislated targets to reduce greenhouse gas emissions: 33% below 2007 levels by 2020 and 80% below 2007 levels by 2050. BC will fail to meet its projected climate control targets if the LNG industry continues to expand.

Join CAPE in Vancouver on April 28th for the event:



 Does your party support expanding public transportation and if so how?

Public Transit increases Physical Activity – Most transit trips begin and/or end with walking. For example, a Montreal study found that a public transit round trip averaged 2,500 steps, which accounts for 25% of the physical activity recommended each day.  A US study found that adults who use public transit, walk on average 19 minutes a day in the process of taking public transit, with 29% of them achieving the 30 minutes of daily physical activity recommended.

Vehicles Associated with a Significant Number of Injuries & Deaths – Motor vehicle collisions are responsible for a significant burden in our society in terms of lives lost, pain and suffering, and the impact on the healthcare system.  In 2014, 1834 people were killed in motor vehicle collisions and 149,900 people were injured in Canada.  Of those killed, 15.7% were pedestrians and 1.9% were cyclists.

Public Transit Reduces Road Collisions – Public transit is an extremely safe mode of travel. The fatality rate for transit passengers is about 1/20th of the fatality rate for those who travel in cars. Total per capita traffic fatalities (including transit and automobile occupants, and pedestrians) decline significantly as transit ridership increases in a community7.

Public Transit Improves Mental Health – Transit can support good mental health by helping people increase their levels of physical activity.  Secondly, transit-supportive communities, like walkable communities, improve social cohesion by giving people an opportunity to positively interact and engage with other people. Transit can also reduce social isolation by giving people access to jobs, services, and recreational opportunities.

Transportation Sector is a Significant Source of Air Pollution  -The Canadian Medical Association estimates that approximately 21 000 Canadians die each year as a result of air pollution (approximately 3000 short-term exposure, and 18 000 due to long term exposure). Hospitalizations and premature death due to asthma, congestive heart failure or chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder may be most common for people over 65 years old.  Children are also more at risk from air pollution due in part to the fact that they are still growing, take in more air for their body weight, and pollution than adults and may have less developed immune systems.  Further, increased exposure to air pollution has been associated with anxiety and depression in adults and children.

Public Transit reduces Air Pollution – Longer vehicle trips can be replaced by public transit which is a less polluting form of transportation, especially electric.  On a per passenger-mile, public transit tends to produce less air pollution than single-person vehicles.

Transportation Sector is a Huge Contributor to Climate Change – In Canada, the transportation sector is the second largest source of GHG emissions

Please see here for more information and resources from CAPE on Active Travel 


Does your party support increasing the carbon tax?

There are two major economic models for reducing carbon use on a wide scale – a) a carbon tax and b) cap and trade system. BC has adopted the carbon tax model and was a positive example for the rest of Canada. However, the amount of the carbon tax, $30 a ton, has not increased in many years as was expected. Therefore BC has transformed itself from a climate change innovator to a climate change laggard.

The Lancet, which is one of the most highly respected medical journals,  states that temperature rising due to climate change may cause famine, crop-failure, sea-level rise, and other destabilizing factors that may be “incompatible with an organised global community.” They also cite this crisis as an opportunity. A Lancet commission on Climate Change and Health recently concluded   that “tackling climate change may be the biggest health opportunity of our time.”
They state The single most powerful strategic instrument to inoculate human health against the risks of climate change would be for governments to introduce strong and sustained carbon pricing.” The Lancet likened carbon pricing to methods already used successfully around the world, such as tobacco taxation.

In British Columbia, per capita consumption of fossil fuels covered by its carbon tax decreased by 16 per cent between 2007 and 2013. And studies showed a decrease of up to 15 per cent in greenhouse gas emissions compared with what would have occurred with no tax.

Many industrialized countries have used carbon taxes to discourage fossil fuel emissions and promote clean energy. For example, Sweden has used a carbon tax to reduce greenhouse gas emissions since 1991. Although a suite of other policies has also been used, the Swedish Ministry of Environment estimated the carbon tax has cut emissions by an additional 20 per cent (as opposed to solely relying on regulations), enabling the country to achieve its 2012 target under the Kyoto Protocol. Sweden’s carbon tax has been credited with spurring the innovation and use of green heating technologies that have significantly phased out burning oil for heating.

Although some critics claim a carbon tax would damage the economy, Sweden’s carbon tax is a hefty $140 per tonne of carbon pollution. Since the carbon tax was introduced, Sweden’s economy has grown by more than 100 per cent, and the country recently ranked fourth in the world on economic competitiveness.



What is your party’s position on the Site C Dam?

Many scientists have called for a halt to the SiteC dam project. This has been on human rights grounds, due to the continued opposition of the First Nations Peoples who live in that area; further, Amnesty International also has a petition against this project.

Farmers are also fighting to keep their homes and livelihoods, on land that could potentially feed one quarter of BC’s population  with healthy produce at a time when approximately 12% of BC households are experiencing food insecurity , putting children and adults at risk for malnutrition, chronic disease, and depression.

The BC Sustainable Energy Association (BCSEA) and the Sierra Club estimate that BC Hydro can essentially meet additional need by increasing energy efficiencies within the system. Further, if the increased demand for energy does materialize, BCSEA estimates that clean technologies, such as wind, solar, and geothermal could cover the demand, while creating more long and short term-jobs.

Recent science calls into question how clean hydroelectricity actually is , having discovered that hydroelectric dams generate huge amounts of methane gas, which is approximately 40-times more potent a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide. The Union of Concerned Scientists has recently calculated that other forms of alternative energy, such as solar , are much cleaner than hydroelectricity. This is especially true when dams are built on very fertile land.


Does your party support expansion of the Kinder Morgan Pipeline?

The proposed twinning of the Kinder Morgan pipeline would triple the amount of oil that is transported through Burrard Inlet. Sooner or later there will be an oil spill which could have devastating effects on our tourist and fishing industries.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the state of our environment, such as clean air and water, has more impact on our health than access to healthcare services.

The Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain Pipeline Expansion (TMX) project does not take into account the potential health and related economic costs due to the very real chance of an oil spill, air pollution, and climate change. Researchers submitted a report to the National Energy Board (NEB) concluding that a proper assessment of the health impacts of the TMX has not been done, nor was climate change considered during the NEB process.

Even without a spill, vulnerable populations, such as the children who live in the vicinity of the TMX are a cause for concern. A report from South-Eastern Texas looking at the relationship between ambient concentrations of benzene and butadiene and the incidence of cancer in children found elevated rates of leukemia around the areas with the highest levels of these chemicals in the air.

Both children and adults who lived near some of the best studied spills, who were greatly impacted as far as livelihoods or contact with the oil spill, had increased risk of anxiety disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, and depression, lasting from 1.5 to 8 years; Indigenous people and women were more likely to experience depression. Mental illness costs Canada billions of dollars each year.

Canada is warming at a rate almost twice the global average, more in Northern Canada. People living in Northern BC are increasingly impacted by climate change, from food security due to declines in the caribou population, to unstable ice roads, to the stress impacts of seeing the impact of climate change on the landscape, while people living across Canada are experiencing illness and fatalities from more extreme weather events.

If we want to fight climate change, we must stop projects such as Kinder Morgan which will dramatically contribute to global warming. We must insist that fossil fuels remain in the ground. We must also promote the development of renewal resources such as solar and wind power.




Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment

Physicians for Social Responsibility

Conversations for Responsible Economic Development

Amnesty International

The Lancet


Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment

Physicians for Social Responsibility

Pembina Institute


The Heart and Stroke Foundation

The David Suzuki Foundation

The Public Health Association of BC

CAPE – Active Transportation


David Suzuki Foundation

BC Sustainable Energy Association