Nurses Criticize State Dept Keystone XL Pipeline Report
Nurses Warn of Escalating Effects of Climate Change on Public Health
The nation’s largest U.S. organization of nurses today criticized the new State Department report on the Keystone XL Pipeline, presumably intended to encourage a green light on construction of the controversial project, for paying inadequate attention to the serious consequences on public health.
“There is broad concern about the harmful health effects linked to both the extraction and transport of tar sands, as well as how the Pipeline will accelerate the steadily worsening erosion of health we see every day as a result of climate change,” said Jean Ross, RN, co-president of National Nurses United.
“Nurses will continue to oppose construction of this project, and call on President Obama to stand with our patients and our communities, not the big oil interests, to reject KXL,” Ross said.
NNU cited numerous reports about the effects of Keystone and tar sands production.
First, extraction of tar sands oil is far more difficult than conventional oil drilling. The massive amount of water needed to separate the extracted product, bitumen, from sand, oil and silt, is contaminated with toxic substances that cannot be returned to any water source that may end up in human drinking water. Nearly all is dumped in large pools that are already infecting neighboring clean water supplies. Communities downstream from the ponds have seen spikes in rates of cancers, renal failure, lupus, and hyperthyroidism. In one small community of just 1,200 residents, 100 have already died from cancer.
Second, leaks from the transmission of the heavy, corrosive tar sands, over U.S. water aquifers, and rivers pose a major danger. In 2010, a tar sands oil pipeline ruptured near Marshall, Mi. The diluted bitumen traveled 40 miles down the Kalamazoo River to Morrow Lake. More than a month later, state officials found that half of the residents in communities along the river reported respiratory ailments and other symptoms associated with the spill. In 2011, TransCanada pipeline spills and ruptures occurred in North Dakota and Montana. On March 29, 2013, an Exxon Mobil pipeline with tar sands oil ruptured near Mayflower, Ark. For months after, residents cited persistent health problems, and independent water and air tests have shown elevated levels of contaminants.
Third, refining tar sands oil, notes Friends of the Earth, is dirtier than refining conventional oil and results in higher emissions of toxic sulfur dioxide and nitrous oxide. Pollutants from tar sands refineries are directly linked to heart and lung disease, asthma, cancer and other serious health risks, as well as emissions of sulfur dioxide and nitrous oxide which contribute to acid rain. More than 40 percent of Americans live in areas adversely affected by air pollution with levels of particle pollution that can cause higher incidents of asthma, heart attacks, and premature death.
Many climatologists and environmental activists have said, in contrast with the State Department report, that Keystone XL would aggravate climate change. Prominent environmentalist Bill McKibben says burning all the oil in those tar sands would nearly double the atmosphere’s concentration of carbon dioxide. NASA scientist James Hansen, a pioneer in climate research, has called Keystone “the biggest carbon bomb on the planet.”
Carbon emissions are a major factor in intensifying climate change. Higher air temperatures can increase bacteria-related food poisoning, such as salmonella, and animal-borne diseases such as West Nile virus. Ground level ozone contaminants can damage lung tissue, reduce lung function, and increase respiratory ailments.
Finally, weather disasters linked to climate change are already severely compromising the health and living standards of millions. NNU has sent five teams of RN volunteers to provide disaster relief in the Philippines following super typhoon Haiyan, called the most destructive and powerful tropical cyclone ever to hit landfall. Sub-surface ocean waters recorded at up to 9 degrees Fahrenheit above average reportedly fueled the strength and size of the storm.
What RNRN volunteers saw were hundreds of patients experiencing immediate injuries and other health problems as a result of the storm, as well as the long term erosion of their health status due to the loss of their homes and livelihood. Similar stories can be told about many other disasters linked to climate change, including Hurricanes Katrina and Sandy in the U.S. where NNU also sent RN volunteers.
“Nurses care for patients every day who struggle with health crises aggravated by environmental pollution in its many forms,” said NNU Co-President Deborah Burger, RN. “As a society we need to reduce the effects of environmental factors, including climate change, that are making people sick, and endangering the future for our children. That’s why we oppose the Keystone XL pipeline.”