People living near the tar sands extraction sites are bearing a heavy health burden, suffering elevated levels of cancers.
Early in 2014, Dr. John O’Connor of the Fort Chipewyan community in Alberta, Canada told the US Senate, that he was seeing an increase in cancers and auto-immune diseases near tar sands extraction sites and he wanted detailed health studies to determine the cause. O’Connor said Alberta doctors were afraid to speak out after a claim of professional misconduct was brought against him for raising “undue alarm” about negative health effects. He was later cleared of charges by the Alberta College of Physicians and Surgeons.
Mercury levels around the Alberta tar sands are 16 times higher than background mercury levels, primarily due to the excavation and transportation of dilbit. The area affected by this contamination is now nearly 7,300 square miles. Methyl mercury is a “bio-accumulative environmental toxicant” meaning it accumulates in the environment (particularly water) and becomes magnified as it goes up the food chain. For example, it is taken up in small fish, which are then eaten by bigger fish where it accumulates to even higher levels, which are then eaten by people. Mercury crosses the blood-brain barrier and the placental barrier. It can cause brain damage in adults and damage to developing fetuses. It can result in lowered IQ and developmental delays in children.
Workers in North Dakota oil production are experiencing adverse health effects. Communities on the south side of Chicago and in Detroit are experiencing wind blown dust from piles of pet-coke, the last end product of Canadian tar sands [Link to Tar Sands] refining.
Members of the Red Lake Nation have endured 64 years of oil pipelines with no easement on land ceded back to their reservation.
At MN350, we see these issues through a climate justice lens to ignore the adverse health effects of people living near the extraction sites, both in Canada and in North Dakota.