Will Alberta's tar sands create a Canadian "cancer alley"? Study finds high levels of carcinogens in air.

tar sands alberta syncrude extraction oil

Canadian tar sands are already considered the dirtiest oil on Earth. Far more wasteful than traditional oil, tar sands extraction is monumentally destructive. Plus, the oil sinks in water, instead of floating on the surface like traditional oil, so pipeline spills are potentially even more disastrous.

Now we learn that not only is this energy source damaging the health of the environment, but a new study has found that the air pollution from Alberta's massive tar sands operations is putting the health of downwind residents at risk by releasing unsafe levels of carcinogenic and toxic chemicals into the air.

Katie Valentine at ThinkProgress summarizes the findings:

The study, published last week by researchers from University of California Irvine and the University of Michigan, found levels of carcinogenic air pollutants 1,3-butadiene and benzene spiked in the Fort Saskatchewan area, which is downwind of the oil and tar sands-rich “Industrial Heartland” of Alberta. Airborne levels of 1,3-butadiene were 322 times greater downwind of the Industrial Heartland — which houses more than 40 major chemical, petrochemical and oil and gas facilities — than upwind, while downwind levels of benzene were 51 times greater. Levels of some volatile organic compounds — which, depending on the compound, have been linked to liver, kidney and central nervous system damage as well as cancer — were 6,000 times higher than normal. The area saw concentrations of some chemicals that were higher than levels in Mexico City during the 1990s, when it was the most polluted city on the planet.

In Port Arthur, Texas, where major oil refineries are located and where the proposed Keystone XL pipeline would end, cancer rates are 15% higher and mortality rates are 40% higher than average. Did Canadian officials not realize the same thing would eventually occur in Alberta? Or perhaps they did, but just knew that in their quest to become an oil giant. some innocent residents might be harmed in the process.

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