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National physicians groups tell Nevada governor to abandon the Las Vegas Water Grab to protect public health

April 8, 2013

Contact: Brian Moench, MD  801-243-9089
Catherine Thomasson, MD 503-819-1170 cthomasson@psr.org

Physicians for Social Responsibility, (PSR) a national scientific and educational organization and the Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment  congratulate and thank Utah Governor Gary Herbert for refusing to sign on to the Las Vegas/Snake Valley Pipeline and asked Nevada Governor Brian Sandoval to abandon the entire Great Basin water pumping project.  Citing concerns over inevitable, irreversible dust storms, particulate pollution, and likely contamination of that dust with highly toxic radioactive elements, dangerous spores that cause infectious diseases, heavy metals and even an asbestos like substance called erionite, the physicians groups sent a joint letter to Nevada's Governor stating that the risks to public health in Utah and other Western states are simply too great to allow the project.

 "Creation of a significant, new source of particulate pollution is acknowledged by virtually every independent evaluation of the project.  The public health impact to the people of Utah would be enormous especially as they already suffer from severe particulate pollution spikes," said Dr Alan Lockwood, an expert on particulate pollution and member of the board of PSR.  Particulate pollution contributes significantly to the four leading causes of death in the U.S: Heart disease, cancer, lung disease and stroke.

 "It is very possible, if not likely that some of the Great Basin dust blanketing residents of the Western United States, Utah in particular, could create more "downwinder" victims because of the radioactivity still present in the that dust," said Dr. John Rachow who practices in Iowa and is a member of the PSR's health and radiation committee comprised of experts on the public health consequences of radiation exposure.

 "Soils in the Western United States also harbor significant concentrations of microorganisms that can cause numerous diseases, like Valley Fever.  Valley Fever is a difficult to diagnose, occasionally fatal disease, especially for pregnant women and the immunosuppressed.  It is caused by inhalation of these spores”, said Dr. Catherine Thomasson, executive director of PSR.  The disease has quadrupled in occurrence in the last ten years in the Southwest.   The American Academy of Microbiology estimates that 200,000 people per year contract the disease which is fatal in about one in 1,000 cases.

In addition, erionite exposure is also a further potential health threat from this project. Erionite is a natural mineral in the same family as asbestos, but is hundreds of times more toxic.  The Great Basin is uniquely suited to the formation of erionite and Nevada has more known deposits than any other state.  "Residents of the western United States are right to be worried about this health threat because there is no evidence that any serious attempt has been made to evaluate the possibility of erionite existing in the same areas that will be de-watered by the proposed Las Vegas pipeline and would be kicked up in the particulate pollution.  Erionite can cause serious lung disease and a highly lethal cancer called mesothelioma. To allow the project go forward without this would be gross negligence to say the least," said Dr. Patterson, president of PSR.

Both physicians groups include experts in the diseases caused by environmental degradation and they consider the entire Las Vegas/Great Basin Pipeline project a serious public health menace that could not realistically be mitigated, not just for Utah but for every other state downwind of the Great Basin.  They strongly urged Gov. Sandoval to abandon the project and look at less destructive options to meet the water needs of Las Vegas.

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