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National Health Groups Join Call for Comprehensive Health Study on Keystone Pipeline

U.S. Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, 4/11/14

Washington, DC - Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA), Chairman of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, and Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), announced today during a press conference call that two national public health groups, the American Public Health Association and the National Association of County and City Health Officials, sent a letter to Secretary of State, John Kerry, joining the request for the Obama administration to complete a comprehensive human health study on the Keystone pipeline. Senators Boxer and Whitehouse requested the human health study in a February 26th letter to Secretary Kerry, and the National Nurses United made a similar request in a March 13th letter.

Below are Senator Boxer's remarks from today's press conference call, as prepared for delivery:

"Thank you all for joining Senator Sheldon Whitehouse and me on the call today.

"I want to share with you the growing concern in the United States about the harmful impacts of tar sands oil and the Keystone XL pipeline. The pipeline will bring 830,000 barrels of dirty tar sands oil into our nation every day. That would be an initial increase of 45 percent compared to what is being imported today - and this project could just be the beginning. In the long term, it is projected that Canada would produce almost 300 percent more tar sands oil by 2030.

"We already know the Keystone XL pipeline would worsen climate change. But there has not been enough focus on the human health impacts of tar sands oil and the proposed pipeline. That is why Senator Whitehouse and I asked Secretary of State John Kerry to not make a decision on the pipeline until the Obama Administration has completed a comprehensive study on the human health risks.

"We know that misery follows tar sands. Significantly higher levels of dangerous air pollutants and carcinogens have been documented downwind from tar sands refineries, and in these areas people are suffering higher rates of the types of cancers linked to these toxic chemicals, including leukemia and non-Hodgkin's lymphoma.

"Tar sands oil will flow to our Gulf Coast refineries, increasing the toxic air pollution that already plagues communities like Port Arthur, Texas. In neighborhoods in Detroit and Chicago, massive open piles of tar sands waste byproduct, known as "pet coke," have resulted in billowing black clouds containing concentrated heavy metals. Children playing baseball have been forced off the field to seek cover from the clouds of black dust that pelted homes and cars.

"Because of these serious concerns, National Nurses United, which is the nation's largest professional association of registered nurses --185,000 nurses -- stood with me at a press conference last month to call on the State Department to address the failure to fully consider the health impacts of tar sands oil and the Keystone XL pipeline.

"I am proud to announce today that the American Public Health Association (APHA) and National Association of County & City Health Officials (NACCHO) are joining Senator Whitehouse, National Nurses United and me in calling for a comprehensive human health study.

"The American Public Health Association is the oldest and most diverse organization of public health professionals in the world. APHA represents a broad array of health providers, educators, environmentalists, policy-makers and health officials at all levels. The National Association of County & City Health Officials represents 2700 local health departments across the country.

"These two groups have written a letter to Secretary Kerry explaining that they support the concept of "health in all policies," which means that potential health impacts should be taken into consideration in the decision-making process.

"I would like to quote from their letter:

"There is an increasing recognition that the environments in which people live, work, learn and play have a tremendous impact on their health. The administration will certainly benefit by having a clear understanding of how the proposed Keystone XL pipeline could impact the public's health, including the health of our most vulnerable citizens."

"The full spectrum of health considerations are often overlooked in important decisions and their omission can lead to policies and practices that are unnecessarily harmful to public health."

"Ultimately, the decision will be based on whether the Keystone XL pipeline is in the national interest. Based on the human health impacts that we do know about, building this pipeline is not in the national interest.

"Children and families in the U.S. have a right to know now how it would affect their health. I urge Secretary Kerry to complete the comprehensive human health study before any decision on the tar sands oil pipeline is made."

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