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Health effects of tar sands and climate change

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Jesse McLaren

on 2 October 2013

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Transcript of Health effects of tar sands and climate change

photo credit Nasa / Goddard Space Flight Center / Reto Stöckli
Health effects of tar sands and climate change
How does tar sands work affect health?
How does climate change affect health?
What determines health?
Do tar sands cause cancer?
Why is there cancer?

John O'Connor
Fort Chipewyan responds
to Health Canada
"This charge of ‘causing undue alarm' since it was lodged was the cause of much frustration and disbelief by residents of Fort Chipewyan. Frustration, because the residents of the community have never been consulted on whether we agree with the charge; and disbelief that the very responsible authority who is charged with protecting our interests and our health was actually lodging the complaints against Dr. John O'Connor, rather than coming to the aid of our community to find resolution to Dr. John O' Connor's claims."
Alberta Cancer Board
• again did not consult or involve community
• found 30% higher cancer rate
• more cancers of the blood and lymphatic system, biliary tract cancers, and soft tissue cancers
• reason: chance vs detection vs risk

College of Physicians and Surgeons of Alberta
"neither the complainants nor the College of Physicians & Surgeons of Alberta wishes to suggest that Dr. O'Connor acted improperly when he raised concerns about the incidence of cancer in Fort Chipewyan based on his observations."
"The oil sands industry is a far greater source of regional PAC contamination than previously realized…Our study confirms the serious defects of the RAMP. More than 10 years of inconsistent sampling design, inadequate statistical power, and monitoring-insensitive responses have missed major sources of PAC to the Athabasca watershed. Most importantly, RAMP claims that PAC concentrations are within baseline conditions and of natural origin have fostered the perception that high-intensity mining and processing have no serious environmental impacts.”
Schindler/Kelly 2009
“We show that the oil sands industry releases the 13 elements considered priority pollutants (PPE) under the US Environmental Protection Agency's Clean Water Act, via air and water, to the Athabasca River and its watershed.. Contrary to claims made by industry and government in the popular press, the oil sands industry substantially increases loadings of toxic PPE to the AR and its tributaries via air and water pathways. This increase confirms the serious defects of RAMP”
Schindler/Kelly 2010
1. monitor environment? no
2.collect data? no
3. compare data? no
RAMP review 2010
“1. Do present levels of contaminants, regardless of origin, present an ecosystem of human health concern? Yes. Data indicate that contaminants of concern include PAHs, mercury, and arsenic.
2. Is there evidence of increased levels of contaminants when sites downstream of industry are compared to sites upstream of industry? Yes.
3. Is there evidence of increased levels of contaminants over time? Yes.
4. Are there documented incidents of industrial pollution or degradation? Yes.

• "Elevated levels of mercury and arsenic in the local fishes are a concern. Health Canada recommended consumption of large predatory fish should not exceed one meal per week for adults. Due to the nutritional value of fish, and the traditional-cultural and economic importance of fish to Fort Chipewyan residents, fish mercury levels pose a serious dilemma. "

• "Arsenic is a known carcinogen linked with human bile duct, liver, urinary tract, and skin cancers, vascular diseases, and type II diabetes. The aquatic biota and the people who depend upon aquatic life for food are exposed to both arsenic and PAHs. Co-exposure to arsenic and the PAH benzo(a)pyrene can increase rates of genotoxicity 8-18 times above rates observed after exposure to ether carcinogen and isolation."

•"Exposure to environmental contaminants such as arsenic, PAHs, and mercury, particularly in ‘country foods’, is a plausible factor for the apparent elevated rates of human cancers and other diseases in Fort Chipewyan.”

Timoney response
• "Although more than 1000 PAHs have been identified to date, only 18 PAH species are commonly evaluated for human exposure and toxicity data to quantify risk. Thousands of PAH species remain unidentified and undescribed. The RSC’s dismissal of cancer risk as negligible was not warranted.”
• “Dismissal of downstream public health concerns was not justified given the superficial treatment of the data and the considerable remaining unknowns such as the need to quantify total exposure to contaminants and to explain the increased rates of cancer and other diseases in Fort Chipewyan”
• "The RSC authors did not visit Fort Chipewyan or interview local people and presented no new data. The RSC report did not deny increased cancer rates, but, for all intents, dismissed environmental contaminants released by industry as a potential cause."
• “There is currently no credible evidence of environmental contaminant exposures from oil sands reaching Fort Chipewyan at levels expected to cause elevated human cancer rates.” • “Environmental contaminants at current levels of exposure are unlikely to cause major health impacts for the general population.”
• “There appears to be strong and recurring perception of potential cumulative health risks by many community members, which itself can lead to stress-related health issues.”

Royal Society of Canada 2010
• "One man, a family physician named John O’Connor, who worked in Fort Chipewyan, is singularly responsible for starting the myth about oilsands-caused cancer."
• "Health Canada and the Alberta Cancer Board found nothing to back up the claims."
• "O'Connor was found guilty by the Alberta College of Physicians and Surgeons of serious ethical breaches."
• "As the Royal Society itself noted: “Highly publicized media reports of downstream contamination from oil sands developments are likely amplifying the considerable concern among downstream residents about their health.” That’s a shame. The people of Fort Chipewyan certainly aren’t at any elevated risk of cancer from the oilsands. But they are at risk of being manipulated, stressed and scared by the enemies of Ethical Oil who recklessly repeat these myths."

Development 2009
2006: Alberta Health and wellness releases report at Suncor licensing hearing, claiming no increase in cancer in Fort Chipewyan. Community was not consulted or involved and data was incomplete.

2007: Health Canada accuses Dr. O'Connor of causing "undue alarm" and College of Physicians and Surgeons launches investigation
"Shell’s plant is located directly on my father’s hunting grounds and today, instead of feeding my family, these lands kill my community. Shell’s plans to expand bitumen refining in an area already devastated by pollution is effectively a death sentence for our culture, lands and people."
Ron Plain, of Aamjiwnaang First Nation
Aamjiwnaang Environment Committee survey
26% adult high blood pressure
26% adults, 9% children chronic headaches
23% children learning/behaviour problems
16% adults skin rashes
39% women miscarriage/still birth
32% visitors cough/asthma worsening

Chief Chris Plain “We’re getting to the point where our children can differentiate between [chemical emission] smells and know when something dangerous is in the air. That’s just not right. We’re having a hard time proving that the illnesses and disease we see around us can be attributed to the plants, but on the flip side, [industry] has done nothing to alleviate our concerns.”
• “Residents of Sarnia and Amjiwnaang First Nation face a grave air pollution problem. There are 62 large industrial facilities in this border region, quite literally in their backyards. Approximately 40 per cent of Canada’s chemical industry is clustered near Sarnia in an area known as “Chemical Valley.”

•"The total amount of greenhouse gases emitted from Sarnia facilities in 2005 was 16.5 million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalents, more than the province of British Columbia...5.7 million kilograms of ‘Toxic Air Pollutants,’ including numerous chemicals associated with reproductive and developmental disorders and cancers "
Chemical Valley
Regional health impacts
• "A recent study found that hospital admission rates are significantly higher in Sarnia than in the cities of Windsor and London, Ontario, particularly with respect to respiratory and cardiovascular illnesses."

• "The Ontario Medical Association estimated that as a result of air pollution, Sarnia-Lambton incurred 100 deaths per year, 270 hospital admissions, 920 emergency visits and 471,700 minor illness days at a cost of over $14 million. "
How does oil industry and spills affect health?
• "you never think of a camp as home. ..They tell you what to eat, where you’re going to eat it…when you have to be quiet, when you have to turn your TV off...I found it easier to almost adapt to, like to almost be a different person when I am at work…a little more tougher and rougher”

• "my buddy had his leg broken, and he said he drove to Saskatchewan and turned around and came back. And he was angry. And he said ‘I was just angry and so I drove and drove and drove and drove.”

• "they are frustrated at work, they feel like they are being taken advantage of, so then they come home and who can they take it out on? The people you are emotionally attached to.”
Gilette Syndrome
• "history of power production-synonymous with boom development"
leaves behind "a dismal record of human ecosystem wastage" including "spiritual depression, divorce, drunkenness, dissension and death"

Fort McMurray:
• highest suicide rate in the country for men age 18-24;
• five times more drug offences than the rest of Alberta;
• 89% higher rate of assault;
• 117% higher rate of impaired driving offences.
• doctor-patient ratio three times lower than Uzbekistan

• "Far more frequently than national norms: eldercare (120% more frequently), childcare (43%) and addictions (35%), supporting the understanding that working conditions in the oil and gas industry put extraordinary stress on families as well as the individual worker. "

•Despite this sector’s predominantly male workforce (82%), females used the EAP to a greater extent than males (60:40)

•“The industry is comprised of a sizeable portion of transitory workers. This group is often unaccompanied by family members and may be a great distance from their support network. Geographic isolation, performance pressures and work schedules may contribute towards the higher prevalence of substance abuse issues relative to the Canadian norm.”

• “It has 35 beds, which staff say are almost invariably full. Last year, the aging shelter, which staff say needs a lot of repairs, turned away 400 women and all the children they might have brought with them. Many simply returned to the homes where their abuse took place.

• Mary-Ellen Proctor, executive director of the Fort McMurray Family Crisis Society, figures she'll need $35-million in provincial and federal funding. To drum up attention, she has been on a three-week hunger strike…In 2008-2009, royalties from the oil sands contributed $2.9-billion to the province”

• “Why do we hear so much about the dangers of tobacco but so little about the other 23 lung carcinogens? The reason is that tobacco is claimed to be a 'lifestyle' choice, so industry and the medical profession can blame the victims. The other 23 known causes of lung cancer are related to industry. They can be prevented and removed from our workplaces and our environment.”

• “Workers in certain carcinogen-laden industries are contracting cancer at rates well beyond those experienced by the general population. .. the auto industry is producing laryngeal, stomach, and colorectal cancers along with its cars. The steel industry is producing lung cancer along with its metal products. Miners experience respiratory cancers many times higher than expected.
• “Globally, more than 1.15 million women were diagnosed with breast cancer in 2002. The highest rates are found in the industrialized nations of north America and western Europe…In northern Africa, as in many regions that are either developing or in transition, breast cancer rates are escalating sharply”.

• “the increasing incidence of breast cancer over these decades paralleled the proliferation of synthetic chemicals…1000 or more new chemicals are synthesized each year. Complete toxicological screening data are available for just 7 percent of these chemicals, and more than 90 percent of these chemicals have never been tested for their effects of human health."

• "many of these chemicals persist in the environment, accumulate in body fat, and may remain in breast tissue for decades.”
Social medicine

• Engels 1845: "When society deprives thousands of the necessaries of life, places them under conditions in which they cannot live – forces them, through the strong arm of the law, to remain in such conditions until that death ensues which is the inevitable consequence – knows that these thousands of victims must perish, and yet permits these conditions to remain, its deed is murder just as surely as the deed of the single individual....disease are the necessary consequence of the neglect and oppression of the poorer clases."

• Virchow 1848: "“if disease is an expression of individual life under unfavourable circumstances, then epidemics must be indicative of mass disturbances.”

Aboriginal health
• National Aborginal Health Organization
“The social determinants of health include: income and social status, social environment, genetic endowment, physical environment, healthy child development, personal health practices and coping skills, employment and working conditions, gender, social support network, culture, education, and access to health services… Additionally, NAHO has identified a group of broader determinants specific to the Aboriginal population in Canada, which include: colonization, globalization, migration, territory, cultural continuity, access, poverty and self-determination. ”

National Collaborating Centre for Aboriginal Health
• "Aboriginal peoples have undergone significant transitions as a result of the loss of traditional ways of living. Income, education, living conditions and Aboriginal-specific determinants such as colonization, dispossession of land, and loss of traditional practices required for health all contribute to poorer health status. In turn, these determinants influence the most proximal and modifiable risk factors for chronic disease: diet, physical activity and tobacco use."

• "Western medical models, which view disease as arising from the body and its components, do not account for the physical, emotional, intellectual and spiritual elements of Aboriginal conceptions of life, health and well-being."
"Western medicine"
• British Medical Journal 1912: "Individuals and communities must be shown that the disease is maintained through ignorance and folly, and that its removal lies completely in their hands. The people must be taught from day to day that TB comes of their own disregard of physiological laws for themselves."

• Canadian physician 1899: “the unnecessary frequenting of, and more especially holding of gatherings for dancing or other purposes in houses in which there is consumption should be carefully avoided.”

• Frantz Fanon 1959: “The fact is that colonization, having been built on military conquest and the police system, sought a justification for it’s existence and the legitimization of its persistence in its works…French medical service in Algeria could not be separated from French colonialism in Algeria.”

Colonialism kills
• George First Rider, of the Blood reserve
“The meat was treated with some kind of chemical. Shortly after it would turn blue and would not be eatable. Those were the days when the people were dying off. During the time of the issuing of rations, many people got sick and very many died. That was the first time [1882] we were poisoned by the Queen and government.”

•Eriel Deranger, of Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation
“Fossil fuel extraction from the tar sands are killing our people with cancer, killing our culture by destroying our traditional lands,and killing our planet with CO2."
• 145 sought medical help
•41 calls to poison control
•320 of 500 surveyed (58%) reported symptoms
"Headache, nausea, and respiratory symptoms were the predominant symptoms reported by exposed individuals in all reporting systems.These symptoms are consistent with the effects associated with
acute exposure to crude oil ."

• The state health department refused to launch a long-term study on the issue due to the cost, however, instead concluding that the oil remaining in the Kalamazoo River “will not result in long-lasting health effects” or a “higher than normal risk of cancer.”
•"Until now there have been 38 large oil spills, but only for seven of them have studies on the repercussions of the exposure to spilled oils on human health been performed. "

•"Most of the studies collected in this review
provide evidence on the relationship between exposure to spilled oils and the appearance of acute physical, psychological, genotoxic and endocrine effects in the exposed individuals."

• "Taking into account the known genotoxic, cancer-provoking and endocrine disrupting properties of many compounds contained in the spilled oils, it seems surprising that only for two oil spills are there studies contemplating these consequences for human health in exposed individuals. "
"The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that climate change may already be causing over 150,000 deaths per year and these risks are expected to increase substantially in the future. These health threats are overwhelmingly concentrated in the poorest regions of the world, who have contributed least to global climate change."
Healing the planet, healing ourselves
• "Many published activist accounts refer to feelings of encouragement and confidence emerging from experiences of collective action."

• "The main factors contributing to a sense of empowerment were the realization of the collective identity, the sense of movement potential, unity and mutual support within a crowd...Participants experienced a deep sense of happiness and even euphoria in being involved in protest events."

• "The take-home message from this research therefore might be that people should get more involved in campaigns, struggles and social movements, not only in the wider interest of social change, but also for their own personal good."
Green jobs now
Jim Britton, regional VP of CEP:
“We want a transition from dependence on fossil fuels that is fair to the workers in the sector, as well as a national energy strategy that includes good green jobs and long term energy security to Canadians."

Susan Spratt, CAW area for director:
"The ongoing risks that these tar sands pipelines and tankers pose aren't worth any price. Tens of thousands of unionized and other jobs depend on healthy river and ocean ecosystems. On October 22 we will be standing in solidarity with thousands of working people in BC and our First Nations sisters and brothers."

Indigenous sovereignty
Full transcript