|Satellite view of some of the oil sands developments, courtesy of the DOE and Google Maps.|
CBC news reports that the Fort McMurray Medical Examiner, Dr. John O’Connor, is worried by a high number of illnesses, including leukemia, lymphomas, lupus, and autoimmune diseases, afflicting residents of Fort Chipewyan, a community of about 1,200 people living 300 kilometers north of Fort McMurray.
Alberta’s booming oil sands development region is also north of Fort McMurray. Elders in the community say they didn’t see these kinds of diseases until the oil industry started production near their homes on the southwestern tip of Lake Athabasca.
Dr. O’Connor would like an epidemiological investigation that would track the health of the community and analyze the possible etiologies of the diseases prior to approving even more developments in the oil sands area. According to the CBC, the doctor is in negotiations with Health Canada to start those studies.
O’Connor says he is diagnosing unusually high numbers of immune system diseases affecting the thyroid and less serious ones such as rheumatoid arthritis and skin rashes.
He has also treated five people in the community who died recently from a rare, almost always fatal cancer that should occur once in every 100,000 people.
“With my increasing lack of ability to explain why I’m seeing such numbers, it worries me and it does call for a health study to be initiated as soon as possible,” says O’Connor.
The oil sands territory, with bitumen reserves that theoretically exceed those of Saudi Arabian crude, is experiencing a massive rush of development. In one of the most recent developments, Chevron Corporation acquired five new oil sands leases in the Athabasca region of northern Alberta, spanning more than 180,000 acres and possessing an estimated 7.5 billion barrels of oil in place. The company hopes to be producing 100,000 barrels of oil a day within 10 years from the project. (Earlier post.)
(A hat-tip to Harvey!)