Health horrors of oilsands described by anti-pipeline U.S. senators

Horror stories about the Alberta oilsands’ impact on human health are being shared in Washington, D.C.

WASHINGTON — Horror stories about the Alberta oilsands’ impact on human health are being shared in Washington, D.C.

A pair of anti-Keystone XL senators invited witnesses Wednesday to provide anecdotes about the effect on people near sites where the oil is extracted, transported and refined.

They hope these human-interest stories might influence the Obama administration as it prepares its final decision on the Keystone XL pipeline.

One of the speakers at the event was John O’Connor, an Alberta doctor.

He first went public in 2006 with concerns about what he considered to be elevated cancer rates around Fort Chipewyan, Alta.

Many of the 1,200 residents believe their proximity to oilsands development and major forestry mills in Fort McMurray have led to contamination of water and wildlife and a higher rate of cancer and other illnesses.

The event organizer said she would send a letter to her longtime colleague in the Senate Democratic caucus, current Secretary of State John Kerry, asking him to consider human health as he prepares a recommendation to President Barack Obama.

“I have shown you, or at least I have told you, how health miseries follow the tar sands,” said Barbara Boxer, the chair of the Senate environment committee, at a news conference.

“Health miseries follow tar sands from extraction, to transport, to refining, to waste disposal.”

Boxer said the health aspect has been overlooked in the discussion and was disappointingly absent in the State Department’s recent environmental report, which predicted no significant effect on carbon pollution whether or not the pipeline is built.

It’s far from certain her appeals will sway the issue at this point. The president has apparently told state governors, at a closed-door meeting this week, that he plans to make a final decision on Keystone within a couple of months.

When asked what leverage she had at her disposal to influence the administration, Boxer replied that her leverage was “the truth.”

She said she would hold hearings, and hold more press conferences if need be, to spread the word about the oilsands’ impact on air and water quality.

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