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Heat Advisory: Protecting Health on a Warming Planet
by Dr. Alan Lockwood

Drawing on peer-reviewed scientific and medical research, Dr. Lockwood meticulously details the symptoms of climate change and their medical side effects.

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Canadian tar sands pipeline threatens Climate, public health, water and lands

PSR added the voice of health professionals to those calling on President Obama to reject the proposed Keystone XL tar sands oil pipeline.

President Obama will make a decision shortly on a proposed 1,700-mile pipeline to carry Canadian bitumen, a toxic and corrosive petroleum sludge, from Alberta, Canada to the Texas Gulf Coast, where it would be refined and exported overseas.

PSR urges its members to call the White House and ask President Obama to deny the permit for the Keystone pipeline. 

Prolonged reliance on fossil fuels

 “This pipeline would dangerously prolong the world’s reliance on fossil fuels,” stated PSR Environment & Health director Barbara Gottlieb.  “It would push us closer to a global warming point of no return.”

NASA scientist and global warming expert James Hansen said in a letter published in June of this year, “if the tar sands are thrown into the mix [of major energy sources], it is essentially game over” for stabilizing world climate.

Three times more greenhouse gases

Because bitumen is dense and sticky, it must be heated or diluted in order to be pumped.  Its extraction and transportation requirements make tar sands oil up to three times as greenhouse gas-intensive as traditional oil.

With world oil supplies declining, a concern for health as well as national security should prompt our nation to develop clean, carbon-free, renewable energy sources, not additional fossil fuels. 

Extraction, processing and transportation not only make tar sands oil more greenhouse gas-intensive; they also threaten land, water, forests and wildlife. 

Toxic contamination

Tar sands are often mined in pristine forests.  The process requires from two and a half to four barrels of water for each barrel of bitumen produced, and contaminates the water with toxic pollutants including phenols, arsenic, mercury, carcinogens such as polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, and naphthenic acids.

The contaminated water is disposed in giant containment ponds, where much of the toxic pollution remains suspended for years in the water.  In 2008, migrating ducks landed on a containment pond at a Canadian tar sands mining site.  Some 1,600 ducks became coated with oil and mining waste and died. 

A pipeline slicing through the center of the country leaves the U.S. vulnerable to oil spills, including the Ogallala Aquifer which provides up to 30% of our nation's agricultural water. 

One tar sands spill has already taken place in the U.S.  In July 2010, 840,000 to one million gallons of corrosive tar sands crude oil spilled from a pipeline into a creek that feeds Michigan’s Kalamazoo River.  The oil damaged wildlife, marshlands, farmland and back yards before being contained.  The pipeline was owned by Canadian tar sands giant Enbridge.

Page Updated November 4, 2011