Not enough people know about program, survey finds

Trail Health and Environment Committee working on making
better connection with community

A committee dedicated to reducing health and environment risks from smelter metals is working toward a safer Trail for area kids but is hoping to get the community more on board.

The Trail Health and Environment Committee – a community-led program delivered by Teck, Interior Health and the B.C. Ministry of Environment – was introduced 10 years ago and looks to maintain environmental initiatives initially set by the Trail lead task force in 1990. 

The committee promotes blood-lead level testing for Trail toddlers, who are more susceptible to health conditions, and also offers a number of initiatives like its home renovation program, which gives residents in Trail and Rivervale or those living in Greater Trail homes built before 1976, access to tools to ensure home improvements are done safety.

After just completing a consultation process that focused on family health, the committee discovered that many of the 200 respondents – 84 per cent – knew little or nothing about the program, so they’ve since made strides toward connecting with Trail residents.

“We’re making extra efforts to continue the success of opening the dialogue up,” said Ruth Beck of Circle B Services, who was hired on as program manager in January.

The program is developing relationships with local renovators and contractors to “beef up the connection to home renovation,” said Beck, adding that was a “missing piece to the puzzle.”

And while a community organization that is well connected to children and their families – Success by Six – was already on board with helping keep parents in the know, now other organizations like FAIR are jumping on board.

Trail Mayor Dieter Bogs, who chairs the program, would like to see some kind of club for families with children under three years old.

“I was surprised by the percentage of people who knew nothing about the program but when you think of it this way, with our focus basically on children under 36 months, every year you drop one-third of the population and pick up another,” he said. 

“Obviously we’re not doing a good enough job. For the new group of families, they obviously don’t understand the programs out there as much as they could.”

Of 64 vegetable gardens tested last year, 28 triggered remediation, while 15 of the 35 yards tested were followed up for further evaluation, according to Bogs, who also pointed out that 76 households took advantage of the home renovation program last year, compared to 26 in 2009.

“An effective program needs to be more than just a program to reduce metals in soil, it needs to be about the health of children, and that includes testing of blood,” he said.

Results show that 85 per cent of the survey participants fully supported the proposed blood-lead level goal to attain a community average of four micrograms of lead per decilitre of blood among children aged six months old to three years old by 2015. 

Jacquie Johnson, health services coordinator for the program, said about 70 per cent of the families she connected with brought their child for blood testing in the fall and 20 of the 35 toddlers had follow ups.

“It provides that reassurance to so many parents that ‘you know what, we know how to live in a community with heavy metals,’” she said.

The testing is done through intravenous but should there be any difficulty obtaining a sample, nurses would resort to a finger poke to draw blood.

With some feedback from parents, Johnson is wading through research to determine if capillary testing would be a better fit for the program, with a device in mind that would speed up the process.

The program will continue to adapt to guidelines set out by Health Canada but won’t wait on the government to improve its local goals, explained Steve Hilts, Teck’s environmental remediation superintendent.

“We even discussed deferring our local process until the new guidelines come out,” he said. “But in the end, we collectively decided to move on with setting new goals to drive further improvements, because it was something that needed to be done.”

Hilts said it’s important to acknowledge the local improvements made over time, noting 20-some years ago when the current generation of parents were toddlers and the level of concern was 25.

“The average in Trail (then) was about 13 and the average in other Canadian cities was about five,” he said. “Today the average in Trail is about five and across Canada it’s now less than two. We’ve come a long way and we just have to keep working to get to the point where local levels are as close to background as possible.”

The program is run out of a community program office at 1319 Bay Ave., which can be reached at 368-3256. To find out more information on the program, visit www.thep.ca