This summer, a study to look at health risks of anchorages near Gabriola

Rachelle Stein-Wotten

Sounder News

Tuesday, March 13 2018

A new assessment is underway to look at the possible health impacts of current and proposed anchorages near Gabriola Island.

Doctor Donald Sutherland, who is the senior advisor on public health for the Canadian Society for International Health, has partnered with two students from the University of British Columbia and Simon Fraser University to complete a health impact assessment with support from Gabriolans Against Freighter Anchorages (GAFA). 

Donald, a member of GAFA, wanted to do the assessment to gather evidence of the health risks freighter anchorages could pose to people living near them to support GAFA’s concerns relating to anchorages off the island’s coast, including five proposed anchorages off the northeast of the island.

“I offered to help GAFA by putting together this health impact assessment and try to look at the evidence rather than just a sort of list of things we’re worried about,” Donald said, to determine “what is the threat and what levels of contamination would constitute a threat.”

Donald said from his understanding there hasn’t been a health impact assessment completed from a community perspective on this coast before a shipping accident or threat has occurred.

Over the next year and a half, Donald said the team expects to examine direct risks such as exposure to residents and first responders to an oil or chemical spill from an anchored ship, if a freighter were to break loose and run aground, noise and light disturbances from anchored freighters and fumes or particulate from bulk loading of materials that may come onshore. 

Psycho-social health risks may also be addressed to determine what effect anchorages may have on the quiet, healthy lifestyle many people expect from living on a Gulf Island, as well as environmental risks and economic activities that anchorages may interfere with such as fishing charters and eco-tourism.

SFU student Laurel White will be on Gabriola this summer, and while the specific risk assessment aspects she will be able to take on while here are yet to be determined, her methods may include conducting a survey of island residents and groups such as caregivers, first responders and the business community. 

“There’s quite a bit of evidence available for Laurel to collect that’s already been pulled together by GAFA,” Donald said, such as the amount of time ships spend at anchorage, that he said can be compiled into a health impact assessment. 

“We really want to understand what the actual risks to health are from the shipping and anchorages close to our community.”