Tuesday, July 08, 2014


Alberta Tar Oil Sands
It Don't Look Good To Me
In Fact
It Looks So Bad

Here is some bad news that will not surprise you.  A report entitled,  "Environmental and Human Health Implications of the Athabasca Oil Sands for the Mikisew Cree First Nation and Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation in Northern Alberta," has found wild caught foods in northern Alberta have  higher than normal levels of pollutants associated with oil sands production.  As a result, the report notes that indigenous people are shifting away from their traditional diet over fears of contamination.  According to the Globe and Mail the study finds, 

...contaminants in traditional foods such as muskrat and moose, and that aboriginal community members feel less healthy than they did a generation ago...
 ...this development, as well as upstream hydro projects, compromises the integrity of the environment and wildlife, which, in turn, adversely affects human health and well-being...

Elevated cancer rates have been noted  among residents, particularly members of the Athabasca Chipewyan and Mikisew Cree First Nations.  Said Steve Courtoreille, chief of the Mikisew Cree Nation. 

This report confirms what we have always suspected about the association between environmental contaminants from [tar sands] production upstream and cancer and other serious illness in our community.

It's time the government does something. The reality is our people are dying.

Unfortunately, does anyone really expect the government is going to do anything...or really gives a damn.  

Chief Allan Adam, ACFN Chief commented more to the point, "One thing most striking… is that both province and federal governments refuse to do anything about [the high rates of cancer]. Even though the pressure is escalating"

Dr. Stéphane McLachlan, who headed the team that prepared the report told journalists at a news conference on Monday,  

On one hand, industry, notably the Oil Sands, cause a decline in the health of the environment and ultimately of community members. On the other hand, the existing health care infrastructure is unable to address these declines in human health. The communities are caught in the middle, and the impacts are clear and worrisome.

"There's something unique that is happening in Fort Chipewyan. It's a situation that is alarming and demands attention.

Indian Country Today  writes on its webpage:

Among other health problems First Nations people in the region suffer are miscarriages, lupus and skin abscesses, which they attribute to the degradation of the traditional food they hunt and harvest. Beyond their health, "local traditional economies like fishing and fur trading have been decimated by industrial pollution and widespread habitat destruction, leaving many residents with no other option but to seek employment in the local oil sands mines. Today, the indigenous bands in northern Alberta are no longer able to safely sustain themselves off the land that has nurtured their lives for centuries," states borealcollective.com, a dedicated group of photojournalists who are committed to the documentation of injustice and inequities that exist environmentally, socially, culturally and politically in Canada and abroad.

The First Nation people of the region are not surprised by any of this.  They have long suspected what is happening.  For years, residents in Fort Chipewyan have asked government to look for potential links between industrial development and health issues to no avail.   
Updated statistics released in March by the Alberta Cancer Board confirmed clusters of rare bile duct cancer and cervical cancer in the remote community 300 kilometers north of Fort McMurray.

 Jonathan Bruno, an ACFN member who does water quality monitoring for the community quoted at Climate Progress says:

Every time we complain about pollution and sickness to the government, they always come back and say its natural.But our elders and our land users — people who have lived off this land their whole life — they say it’s never been like this their whole lives. And we trust that.

We don’t feel safe unless all our food is tested. Fish, plants, big game — everything that we consume as First Nations, we’re going to sample.

More from Bruno and Climate Progress, 

For Bruno, the loss of culture troubles him to the core. He remembers teaching his young son how to trap, hunt, and live off the land and then, the moment he was told there were limits, that he couldn’t eat fish without risking his health.

“It was heartbreaking,” he said. “For my son … He ate that year-round in our household, and for him to… for these professors and these universities to tell him there’s a limit on it…” he trailed off.

“I still eat it,” he continued. “I won’t put a limit on it, because that’s the way I was brought up. I’m 30 years old, and I ate that my whole life. So for somebody to tell me to quit eating it … I can’t just quit. If I get sick, I get sick. But that’s the choice I make.”

Of course this isn't all the bad news.

Canadian government researchers earlier discovered that oil-sands operations have puffed out mercury over 4.7 million acres of northeast Alberta, boosting levels to as much as 16 times higher than background levels. Mercury is a potent poison that’s frequently emitted by mining and fossil-fuel burning. It can harm the brains, hearts, kidneys, lungs, and immune systems of children and adults alike.

At the fifth and final Tar Sands Healing Walk, Michael Toledano, writes, indigenous communities living on the frontlines of bitumen extraction in Alberta came together to pray, and to lead a march through the grotesque epicenter of a continental oil project.  

Praying seems pretty futile to me, but Toledano has a different take.  

It may seem defeatist to pray in the face of an industrial behemoth like Alberta’s tar sands, but it is actually an incredible show of strength. As millennia old traditions, these prayers have survived smallpox epidemics, policies of starvation, religious bans, torture in state sanctioned residential schools, and massive environmental degradation at the hands of mining, oil, and gas industries. Praying in the heart of Alberta’s tar sands is a palpable act of defiance—a clear refusal to go extinct after centuries of attempted genocide.

Anyway, the indigenous and the  multitude up in Alberta don't need me to tell them how they should choose to fight. 

The Walk itself, 

...passed by open-pit mines, fields of dead earth, lakes of poison called ‘tailings ponds,’ soviet-style worker villages, and hydrocarbon refineries. The air reeked of sulphur and diesel, and many participants complained about burning eyes, sore throats, metallic tastes, headaches, and nausea.

Walk participant  former chief of the Mikisew Cree, George Poitras explained,

Many Elders, hunters, fishermen, and trappers talk about how 20 years ago you could scoop water from your boat or Canoe driving on the rivers, on the lakes, without any concern... Nobody does that anymore.

Over in British Columbia, Grand Chief Stewart Phillip told reporters during a major anti-shale pipeline rally in downtown Vancouver last month , "it's official.  The war is on."  He told a gathering of protesters  there will be battles ahead in the courts with several lawsuits immediately looming.  He added, that activists have to be ready to stop project proponent Enbridge Inc. from doing basic development work on the pipeline site.

There will be the need to go out onto the land and onto the waters and physically stop any effort on the part of Enbridge to do preparatory work, site preparation, surveying while this matter is in the courts.

Some of us here are going to jail because that’s what it’s going to take.

The State and Global Capital, of course, chant a mantra of economic development, jobs and higher wages.   Peter Deranger, an ACFN Elder, is not impressed.  He says monetary wealth is little consolation for the environmental poverty that development has inflicted upon his community. He recalls a kind of wealth, in non-capitalist terms, which the Cree, Dene, and Chipewyan people of Alberta enjoyed for thousands of years prior to the white economy.  He tells how up until the 1960s, when local industrialization began, his community could survive off of traditional foods like “moose, muskrats, buffalo, beaver, bear, caribou,” and water from the Athabasca watershed. He says, “we were living in a paradise, in a state of utopia. We had no government: We were free. We had no money and nobody was poor… We were living in a state where there was no hunger. Nobody was sick...There are some people who say we are not against development, but I am against development, Development is only destruction, no matter which way you look at it, it’s all destruction. And jobs—jobs are slavery. They come into our country here and they make us go through residential schools, and then they want us to work for them: To destroy our land and make them rich.” 

I am out of words.

The following is from  The First Perspective.


Mychaylo Prystupa

Deeply frustrated by provincial denials of health concerns, two First Nations commissioned their own study using out-of-province university researchers to examine oil sands pollutants in their foods.
Vancouver Observer

Two northern Alberta First Nations downstream of massive oil sands smoke plumes and tailing ponds released a human health study Monday, implicating the growth of the industry to many serious Aboriginal health concerns, including cancer.
The worry? Oil sands pollution is contaminating their wild food.
“I don’t know what it is that they’re hiding. What’s causing these cancers? Why is it so hard that they cannot take it out of their production, so it’s not hurting anyone or killing anyone?” asked Chief Steve Courtereille of the Mikisew Cree First Nation at an Edmonton press conference.
The new scientific study states the region's "country food" contains elevated levels of toxic metals and carcinogens, that members of the Mikisew Cree and Athabasca Chipewyan First Nations traditionally eat.
But recent fears that oil sands pollution is contaminating the food, has led fewer people to eat it.
The research was partly funded by Health Canada and reviewed by federal scientists.
The wild foods include: moose, ratroot, duck, wild mint, spruce gum, pickerel, caribou, and Labrador tea. Fish are no longer eaten from the Athabasca River, due to government health warnings.
The study reveals these foods contained elevated levels of heavy metals and carcinogens, and that nearly a quarter of the Aboriginal participants -- 23 out of 94 -- had cancer, among other ailments.
Government not trusted
The push for the study was motivated by a deep distrust of provincial and federal health officials, who they say have "failed" to comprehensively study the issue, said the leaders.
“One thing most striking… is that both province and federal governments refuse to do anything about [the high rates of cancer]. Even though the pressure is escalating,” said ACFN Chief Allan Adam.
“We are being brainwashed by the Conservative government that everything is ok. It’s not,” he added.

Conservative Health Minister Rona Ambrose’s press secretary was reached in Ottawa to comment on the study, but a statement was not provided.
The Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers has previously said:
“Canada’s oil sands producers are deeply concerned about suggestions oil sands development is affecting people’s health, most specifically resident First Nations. Safety is our industry’s top priority and oil sands development must occur in a manner that keeps people safe, and benefits their overall quality of life.”
Questions about cancer in the oil sands have been swirling for months, since Alberta doctor John O’Connor raised concerns in Washington, D.C. in February with U.S. Senators about studies linking the oil sands’ pollution to elevated cancer levels.
O'Connor's remarks sparked an international reaction, and were followed shortly in March by comments from Alberta’s Chief Medical officer, who said his data review of cancer records showed that the “overall number of cancers is not significantly higher than expected” in the Fort Chipewyan area versus the rest of Alberta.
The new First Nations study released Monday provides further details of cancer cases: four incidents of breast cancer, four of lung cancer, and two each of cervical, colon, gallbladder, kidney, prostate, and stomach cancer as well as leukemia, said the report.
Also worrying for community members were: neurological illnesses (e.g. sleeping disorders, migraines, and stress), respiratory illnesses (e.g. allergies, asthma) as well as circulatory (e.g. hypertension, coronary) and gastrointestinal (e.g. gallbladder, ulcers) illnesses.
Chemical soup
The study also found:
“Arsenic levels were high enough in muskrat and moose muscle; duck, moose, and muskrat livers; and moose and duck kidneys that they were of concern for young children.”
“Cadmium levels were again elevated in moose kidney and liver samples but also those of beaver and ducks, although muskrat samples were again low. Mercury levels were also high for duck muscle, kidneys, and livers as well as moose and muskrat kidneys, specially for children.”
“Total levels of PAHs and levels of carcinogenic and alkylated PAHs were very high relative to other studies on food conducted around the world,” said the report.
The report stated that exposure rates to these contaminants “were generally not of health concern” because of the low amounts of traditional foods that are now consumed as community members transition towards store-bought foods.
A feature-length documentary “One River Many Relations” will be released in October, to communicate issues about health impacts from the oil sands.
Excerpts have already been released.
Alberta universities 'too biased' - Chief Courtereille
The University of Manitoba and the University of Saskatchewan, in collaboration with the bands, conducted the research.
The choice to go with out-of-province researchers was deliberate.
“Dealing with the Alberta universities were in our view not credible, because of the close ties to the Alberta government…” said Chief Steve Courtereille.
Dr. John O'Connor, who frequently attends to cancer patients in the Fort Chipewayan area said Monday:
"This (study) is just another piece of information which is on top of all other previous scientific reports that have come out," O'Connor said.
"God knows what difference this report will make. But if someone doesn't act, and come to their senses...we've always said comprehensive studies are needed."
Still, Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation’s leader admitted, his nation shares the responsibility for allowing the industrial free for all, that’s led to so many changes to the environment in northern Alberta.
“We recognize we were partly to blame for granting the approvals of projects. What we are asking is a slow down of further development, in regards to what is going on in our region, and start cleaning up the mess, and putting down on paper in regards to what you’re putting in the Athabasca River,” said Chief Adam.
The oil sands industry employs 10 percent Aboriginal people, says the Alberta government. It also brings in $3.5 billion in royalties per year to fund the province's social programs.
CAPP says the oils sands is projected to more than double by 2030, to 5.2 million barrels per day.

1 comment:

Addison Conroy said...

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