'Smoking Gun' Research Reveals Tar Sands Cancer Legacy
By Andy Rowell
Chief Theresa Spence is entering what is hopefully her last week of a hunger strike.
The Canadian indigenous leader, and public face for many of the Idle No More movement, has said she will finish her fast on Friday when she meets Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper.
The Attawapiskat First Nation Chief has been on a hunger strike since Dec. 11 trying to force Harper into talks with aboriginal leaders.
She vowed not to eat solid food until she gets a meeting with Harper to discuss his controversial Bill C-45, which was approved by the Canadian Parliament in December.
One of the issues Spence and Harper will talk about is tar sands, and how its development is impacting indigenous communities.
Her hand will be strengthened by the latest disturbing scientific research, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, that shows that cancer-causing pollutants are linked to tar sands.
There has been evidence stacking up for a while that the tar sands are leaving a lethal legacy. And yesterday’s peer-reviewed study adds to the growing evidence of harm.
What makes this interesting is that the scientists include those from Environment Canada. It is going to be hard for the Canadian government to dismiss the evidence from its own scientists.
The scientists analyzed sediment dating back about 50 years from six small lakes north of Fort McMurray, the center of the toxic tar sands industry. The scientists were looking for deposits of cancer-causing polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, or PAHs.
And what they found disturbed them. They found levels of PAHs have risen roughly at the same pace as the tar sands development. Results from one remote lake showed PAH levels 23 times higher than pre-development levels 50 years ago.
They also concluded that the contamination covered a wider area than had previously been believed.
This is worrying as PAHs are cancer-causing chemicals. The American Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry says it is well “established” that PAHs are carcinogenic, and have been linked to infertility, immune disorders and fish mutation.
“The signature of the PAHs and the timing strongly suggest that development and the refining of the oil sands plays a role in PAHs increasing in these lakes,” argues Joshua Kurek, from Queen’s University in Kingston, Canada, and lead author of the study.
“Now we have the smoking gun,” argues co-author Professor Smol, another Queen’s University professor, who argues that it is the rate of growth that’s most alarming. “You only have to start doing some back-of-the-envelope calculations of, in 15 years, where they might be,” he said. “But it’s going to get worse. It’s not too late but the trend is not looking good.”
The study is another rebuttal to the oil industry line that oil contamination is from natural oil seeps.
“Hopefully, this will kill the all-the-pollutants-are-natural theory once and for all,” David Schindler, a University of Alberta biologist who co-authored a 2010 study that revealed pollution in the Athabasca River near the tar sands told the Globe and Mail. “I think it’s pretty convincing evidence.”
In response Alberta’s Ministry of Environment and Sustainable Resource Development conceded that “Overall, we do know there is an impact from industry.”
The question that Spence needs to ask Harper is how much toxic local pollution is he going to allow, and how much CO2 pumped into the atmosphere, before he realizes that the tar sands legacy is just too great.
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By Kristen Fischer
It's going to be back-to-school time soon, but will children go into the classrooms?
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) thinks so, but only as long as safety measures are in place.
Keeping Schools Safe<p>What will safer schools look like?</p><p>In a <a href="https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jama/fullarticle/2766822" target="_blank">JAMA article</a> published last month, <a href="https://www.jhsph.edu/faculty/directory/profile/1781/joshua-m-sharfstein" target="_blank">Dr. Joshua Sharfstein</a>, a pediatrician and professor at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, outlined suggestions — many of which are similar to AAP's.</p><p>Remote learning protocols must stay in place, especially as some schools stagger home and in-building learning. If another shutdown needs to occur, children will rely on distance learning completely, so it must be easy to switch to, he said.</p><p>He suggested giving parents a daily checklist to document their child's health. Kids should be screened quickly on arrival and be given hygiene supplies. Maintenance staff should use appropriate PPE and have regular cleaning schedules. A notification system should be in place if a case is identified, Sharfstein recommended.</p><p><a href="https://www.albany.edu/rockefeller/faculty/erika-martin" target="_blank">Erika Martin</a>, PhD, an associate professor of public administration and policy at University at Albany, said nutrition assistance and health services should be included. She called for tutoring programs with virtual options as well as technology access.</p>
Supporting Staff<p>Teachers and staff will be affected by safeguarding measures, noted <a href="https://directory.sph.umn.edu/bio/sph-a-z/rachel-widome" target="_blank">Rachel Widome</a>, PhD, an associate professor of epidemiology and community health at University of Minnesota.</p><p>"In order for all of the in-school precautions to work well, we'll be asking a lot of teachers and staff," Widome told Healthline. In addition to their usual workload, they'll now be asked to monitor mask-wearing, ensure children are keeping distance, and be aware of any symptoms.</p><p>Along with Sharfstein, Widome called for an increase in financial support. More employees will likely be required so teachers and staff members can keep up with the added demands.</p>
Should Kids Go Back?<p>While these guidelines may help get some schools to reopen, many people don't think children should go back to school over fears they could contract the disease and spread it to other vulnerable family members like grandparents, infant siblings, or their parents.</p><p>In a <a href="https://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/early/2020/07/08/peds.2020-004879" target="_blank">Pediatrics</a> commentary, <a href="https://www.md.com/doctor/william-raszka-md" target="_blank">Dr. William V. Raszka, Jr.</a>, an infectious disease specialist at The University of Vermont Medical Center, argued that schools should open because school-aged children are far less important drivers of COVID-19 than adults.</p><p>But he says the risk and benefit is not equal among all students ages 5 to 18.</p><p>"Elementary schools are arguably higher priority for face-to-face schooling, since younger children are at lower risk for infection and transmission, and since parental supervision of younger children's distance learning may be particularly challenging," added Sorensen, who penned a <a href="https://jamanetwork.com/channels/health-forum/fullarticle/2767411" target="_blank">June article in JAMA</a> with reopening tips. "That means middle and high schools are more likely to emphasize distance learning."</p><p>Specific student populations, such as special education students and students with disabilities, would also benefit greatly from more time spent in face-to-face environments, Sorensen said.</p>
What Parents Can Do<p>Parents should ask for and receive frequent updates from schools about plans for the fall. They should also be informed about plans if and when COVID infections are identified, Sharfstein said.</p><p>"I'd like to see parents investing now, during the summer, in doing things that can slow and stop the spread of the virus in their communities," Widome said.</p><p>"Now is a good time for kids to practice wearing masks and get used to them as they may be wearing them for longer stretches if school starts up in person," Widome suggested.</p><p>She recommends parents try different mask designs and materials to see what children are more comfortable wearing.</p><p>"If you are using cloth face coverings, it's good to have extras on hand," Widome added.</p><p>Parents should model healthy behavior at home and while out in public — another thing that could affect how well children adapt to reopening practices, Sorensen said.</p><p>"Children may want to know more about face coverings," added <a href="https://www.linkedin.com/in/leescott/" target="_blank">Lee Scott</a>, chairwoman of the Educational Advisory Board at <a href="https://www.goddardschool.com/" target="_blank">The Goddard School</a>. "Dramatic play, such as creating or wearing a face covering, may help some children adjust to this concept." Schools can also show children photos of what faculty members look like in their masks so the students are familiar with that appearance.</p><p>Johns Hopkins University recently released its eSchool+ Initiative, a slew of resources surrounding education during the pandemic. These include a <a href="https://equityschoolplus.jhu.edu/reopening-checklist/" target="_blank">checklist for administrators</a>, report on <a href="https://equityschoolplus.jhu.edu/ethics-of-reopening/" target="_blank">ethical considerations</a>, and a tracker of <a href="https://equityschoolplus.jhu.edu/reopening-policy-tracker/" target="_blank">state and local reopening plans</a>.</p>
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Over 300 groups on Monday urged Senate leadership to reject a bill currently under consideration that would incentivize communities to sell off their public water supplies to private companies for pennies on the dollar.
<div id="fea63" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="9a6f211c2bc5aedd34837944cb8eeedf"><blockquote class="twitter-tweet twitter-custom-tweet" data-twitter-tweet-id="1281000111481294849" data-partner="rebelmouse"><div style="margin:1em 0">Water in Illinois is overwhelmingly public. Why is Tammy Duckworth sponsoring a bill that aims to change that? https://t.co/1V36Kkd99s</div> — The American Prospect (@The American Prospect)<a href="https://twitter.com/TheProspect/statuses/1281000111481294849">1594249201.0</a></blockquote></div>
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