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Washington and Oregon PSR Fight Increases in Oil Transport and Storage

Posted by Barbara Gottlieb on June 10, 2015

The Washington and Oregon chapters of Physicians for Social Responsibility have teamed up to fight against a proposed increase in crude oil transport and storage across their states. Noting that it could have harmful impacts on human health in the region, they have circulated a position statement addressed to the respective governors of their states and have gathered over 300 signatures from health professionals in the Pacific Northwest.

The chapters found eight major categories of risks that could arise if the proposed increases were to be enacted. The most severe include oil rail car derailments; oil rail car and oil storage tank fires, spills, and explosions; oil spills during loading and vessel transport; increased air and water pollution, and contributions to climate change-induced injury and disease.

The proposed increases in rail traffic come with recent increased oil extraction from the Bakken fields in North Dakota and Montana as well as tar and oil sands from Canada.

"If current proposals are allowed to proceed, the volume of oil-by-rail coming into Washington would increase from the current 19 trains per week to as many as 137 trains per week, each about 1.5 miles long," the position statement reads. "Each would carry approximately 2.9 million gallons of volatile crude to be stored, in some cases refined, and then exported to other states. This is a larger daily volume than would flow through the proposed Keystone XL pipeline."

Oil-by-rail could also travel extensively through Oregon and be delivered to ports on the Columbia River, to be shipped subsequently across the Pacific Ocean.

Using data from peer-reviewed journals and other medical sources, the chapters compiled an extensive summary of potential risks associated with the proposed oil transport and storage increases in the two states.

"The known risks associated with oil-by-rail transport, oil tank storage, and oil export by vessel pose an unacceptable threat to human health and safety," the statement reads. "As concerned Washington and Oregon health care professionals, we are deeply troubled by the public health and safety impacts of these proposals."

Just one month ago, an oil train in North Dakota caught fire, leading to the evacuation of a nearby town. Although no injuries were reported, the potential for disaster looms large without swift action to stop oil-by-rail transport.

Review the position statement here. Washington State and Oregon residents who are health professionals are invited to add their names to oppose these oil transport and storage increases.

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