Gov’t examining Lac-Megantic health risks

The Estrie Department of Public Health (DSP) has been working with the Quebec Ministry of Sustainable Development, Environment, Parks, and Wildlife, along with other implicated organizations to attempt an assessment of some of the long-term impacts of the Lac-Mégantic rail tragedy on the health of survivors and their environment. Air qualityHealth officials have been evaluating immediate health impacts on those evacuated on a daily basis. The main risk comes from oil spilled and seeped into the ground during discharge. Crude oil is a complex mixture of hydrocarbons including volatile solvents such as benzene, a known carcinogen, among others. One of the known health effects of benzene can be leukemia, but, this linkage has been linked only to exposure over a period of several years. In the absence of contradictory evidence, therefore, the DSP believes that the current exposure of workers does not represent an increased risk to their health. It is recommended, however, that workers wear protective equipment appropriate to the risk of the work done.Air quality has been restored in all reintegrated areas hit by the disaster. For areas not yet declared safe, visits inside the safety perimeter will only be permitted in the absence of benzene in the air. Drinking waterDSP water analysis is reassuring, the department believes, for citizens supplied by the Lac-Mégantic drinking water system as regular testing continues to be carried out by municipalities in collaboration with the MDDEFP.In addition, an action plan will soon be in place to monitor individual wells, especially shallow wells located near the Chaudière River, or affected by the smoke plume. For now, the DSP believes that there is no risk unless there are signs of surface film, unusual smell or ‘funny’ taste.’) In such cases, citizens are urged to contact the MDDEFP Centre for Environmental Control at 819 820-3882, extension 0.Recreational water Lac-Mégantic: There is no prohibition on bathing or sporting activities in Lake-Megantic, except for the downtown perimeter. Analysis of the lake continues to be made and have so far been negative for hydrocarbons and the DSP considers that there is no risk to health so far.The Chaudière River: It is not recommended to swim in waters demonstrating visible signs of oily deposits or smelling of oil. As a result, the Ministry is encouraging citizens to avoid swimming in the river until further notice. The MDDEFP continues its work in this area and will remain the official source of information on the water quality of the river.Soil and surfaces In reintegrated areas, some homes and properties have been affected by oil spills or deposits from smoke. The majority of air-borne contaminants were dispersed by the wind and part was diluted by rain. Although exposure from skin contact poses a negligible risk in the long term, thorough cleaning is recommended. Wash with soap if there is direct contact with the skin and call Info-Santé at 8-1-1 if symptoms appear.Evacuated areas: Soil and surface contamination is necessarily greater in these areas, but highly variable from one street to another. The analysis of health risks for this area will be directed towards soil characterization and the implementation of a decontamination plan.