Nurses oppose Keystone pipeline citing public health risks

National Nurses United asked supporters to sign the union’s petition urging President Obama to reject approval of the Keystone XL pipeline, which the nurses’ union says is a threat to public health.

“There is broad concern about the harmful health effects linked to both the extraction and transport of tar sands, as well as how the pipeline will accelerate the steadily worsening erosion of health we see every day as a result of climate change,” said Jean Ross, co-president of NNU. “Nurses will continue to oppose construction of this project, and call on President Obama to stand with our patients and our communities, not the big oil interests, to reject KXL.”

Meanwhile the Teamsters and building trades unions are urging the President to approve the pipeline’s construction immediately.

Citing a recent report by the US State Department saying that the pipeline’s impact on climate change will be minimal, Sean McGarvey, president of the North American Building Trade Unions, said that there was no longer any excuse to delay the project.

The pipeline will be built by the world’s “safest and most skilled workforce,” who will build the pipeline “in accordance with the strictest environmental and safety standards,” said McGarvey, who pointed out that the pipeline will provide good paying jobs in an industry where unemployment remains above 12 percent.

The US State Department recently released its report on the environmental impact of the pipeline. The report said that the pipeline would not significantly increase greenhouse gases, the cause of climate change.

President Obama said last summer that his decision to approve or disapprove the pipeline would hinge on the findings of the report.

But the nurses’ union was critical of the report saying that it didn’t sufficiently consider the public health impact of the pipeline.

According to the nurses, one of the main problems with the pipeline is that it enables an oil extraction process whose toxic bi-products contaminate drinking water.

The massive amounts of water needed to extract oil from Canadian tar sand becomes contaminated with bitumen, oil, and sand during the process. When this toxic mix is disposed of, it sometimes finds its way into drinking water supplies.

“Communities downstream from the (disposal) ponds have seen spikes in rates of cancers, renal failure, lupus, and hyperthyroidism,” said the nurses’ statement about the pipeline. ” In one small community of just 1,200 residents, 100 have already died from cancer.”

Once the oil is extracted from tar sand and is on its way through the pipeline, it will cross over aquifers and rivers that are drinking water sources for communities near the 1,700 mile pipeline. The nurses say pipeline spills, which are inevitable, will pollute this drinking water and point to the public health impact of spills that have already occurred,

In 2010, a tar sands oil pipeline ruptured near Marshall, Minnesota. The diluted bitumen traveled 40 miles down the Kalamazoo River to Morrow Lake. More than a month later, state officials found that half of the residents in communities along the river reported respiratory ailments and other symptoms associated with the spill. In 2011, TransCanada pipeline spills and ruptures occurred in North Dakota and Montana. On March 29, 2013, an Exxon Mobil pipeline with tar sands oil ruptured near Mayflower, Ark. For months after, residents cited persistent health problems, and independent water and air tests have shown elevated levels of contaminants.

Another public health problem created by the pipeline will be increased pollution at refineries, the final destination of the pipeline’s oil.

Refining oil from tar sand is much more difficult and takes longer than refining oil from conventional sources. The extended process will cause more harmful pollutants to be released into the air.

The increased pollution will increase the risk of asthma, heart disease, and premature death for people living near the refineries.

“Nurses care for patients every day who struggle with health crises aggravated by environmental pollution in its many forms,” said Deborah Burger, NNU co-president. “As a society, we need to reduce the effects of environmental factors, including climate change, that are making people sick, and endangering the future for our children. That’s why we oppose the Keystone XL pipeline.”


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