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Alberta Doctors Reluctant to Treat Patients Who Draw Connection Between Tar Sands and Health

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Alberta Doctors Reluctant to Treat Patients Who Draw Connection Between Tar Sands and Health

By Andy Rowell

Later today hearings are scheduled to begin on emissions and vapors emanating from the tar sands, specifically around the Peace River area in northwestern Alberta, Canada.

The hearings, which have been scheduled by the Albertan Energy Regulator, have come after years of complaints by local residents into the odors, which are so bad some families have been forced to move from their homes.

Court hearings begin today in Alberta over regulation of industry accountability of emissions from tar sands plants. Photo credit: Wikicommons

Local residents have been complaining of symptoms such as severe headaches, dizziness, sinus problems, vomiting, muscle spasms and fatigue, amongst others.

But we do not know how badly the tar sands are really impacting people’s health. This is because according to a report commissioned specifically for the hearings by a public health specialist, some local doctors are reluctant to treat patients who draw connections between the tar sands industry and their personal health problems.

The report, prepared by Dr. Margaret Sears, concludes that: “There were reports from various sources that physicians would not diagnose a relationship between bitumen exposures and chronic symptoms.”

“Physicians are quite frankly afraid to diagnose health conditions linked to the oil and gas industry,” she adds.

And it gets worse. For those individuals who suggested there was a “connection” between their health problems and the tar sands, Sears records how “Physician care was refused … and that analytical services were refused by an Alberta laboratory when told that the proposed analysis was to investigate exposure to emissions related to bitumen extraction.”

Locals are arguing that the regulator must force the industry to capture the emissions: “The best result possible is that they make some regulations to get companies to capture their vapours,” believes Alain Labrecque, who has had to vacate his farm after suffering numerous symptoms including headaches, dizziness, fatigue and memory loss.

His family only started experiencing symptoms in 2011, after Baytex Energy purchased nearly 50 wells and in the area and started heating bitumen in above-ground tanks to extract the oil.

“There is definitely a regulatory gap,” Labrecque argues. “We just want more accountability—we want the regulator to take on a greater role, and have regulations in place so they can enforce them, and just provide more accountability to industry.”

Baytex, for its part, predictably argues that “there are no human health impacts associated with the emissions from our projects.”

The Labrecques have also now filed an injunction against Baytex to force the company to stop operating. The hearing, though, won’t be heard until March.

Local residents will also have to wait until March for the report into the hearings to be published by the regulator.

Visit EcoWatch’s TAR SANDS  page for more related news on this topic.

A plume of smoke from wildfires burning in the Angeles National Forest is seen from downtown Los Angeles on Aug. 29, 2009 in Los Angeles, California. Kevork Djansezian / Getty Images

California is bracing for rare January wildfires this week amid damaging Santa Ana winds coupled with unusually hot and dry winter weather.

High winds, gusting up to 80- to 90 miles per hour in some parts of the state, are expected to last through Wednesday evening. Nearly the entire state has been in a drought for months, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor, which, alongside summerlike temperatures, has left vegetation dry and flammable.

Utilities Southern California Edison and PG&E, which serves the central and northern portions of the state, warned it may preemptively shut off power to hundreds of thousands of customers to reduce the risk of electrical fires sparked by trees and branches falling on live power lines. The rare January fire conditions come on the heels of the worst wildfire season ever recorded in California, as climate change exacerbates the factors causing fires to be more frequent and severe.

California is also experiencing the most severe surge of COVID-19 cases since the beginning of the pandemic, with hospitals and ICUs over capacity and a stay-at-home order in place. Wildfire smoke can increase the risk of adverse health effects due to COVID, and evacuations forcing people to crowd into shelters could further spread the virus.

As reported by AccuWeather:

In the atmosphere, air flows from high to low pressure. The setup into Wednesday is like having two giant atmospheric fans working as a team with one pulling and the other pushing the air in the same direction.
Normally, mountains to the north and east of Los Angeles would protect the downtown which sits in a basin. However, with the assistance of the offshore storm, there will be areas of gusty winds even in the L.A. Basin. The winds may get strong enough in parts of the basin to break tree limbs and lead to sporadic power outages and sparks that could ignite fires.
"Typically, Santa Ana winds stay out of downtown Los Angeles and the L.A. Basin, but this time, conditions may set up just right to bring 30- to 40-mph wind gusts even in those typically calm condition areas," said AccuWeather Senior Meteorologist Mike Doll.

For a deeper dive:

AP, LA Times, San Francisco Chronicle, Washington Post, Weather Channel, AccuWeather, New York Times, Slideshow: New York Times; Climate Signals Background: Wildfires, 2020 Western wildfire season

For more climate change and clean energy news, you can follow Climate Nexus on Twitter and Facebook, sign up for daily Hot News, and visit their news site, Nexus Media News.

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