Cancer study ‘con­firms’ oil­sands link

High level of con­tam­i­nants found in na­tive diet, re­searchers say

Edmonton Journal - - ALBERTA - MARTY KLINKEN­BERG Ed­mon­ton Jour­nal mk­linken­berg@ed­mon­ton­jour­

Sci­en­tists at the Univer­sity of Man­i­toba say they have linked pol­lu­tion in the oil­sands to el­e­vated cancer rates in Fort Chipewyan for the first time.

The im­pact on health in com­mu­ni­ties down­wind of de­vel­op­ment is “clear and wor­ri­some,” re­searcher Stephane McLach­lan told a news con­fer­ence Mon­day in Ed­mon­ton.

“Some­thing unique is hap­pen­ing in Fort Chipewyan, es­pe­cially around cancer.”

Con­ducted in col­lab­o­ra­tion with the Athabasca Chipewyan and Mikisew Cree First Na­tions, the study found fish and an­i­mals con­sumed as part of a tra­di­tional diet con­tained un­usu­ally high con­cen­tra­tions of con­tam­i­nants emit­ted dur­ing the ex­trac­tion and up­grad­ing of bi­tu­men.

Twenty-three cases of cancer were re­ported among 94 people in­ter­viewed as part of the three-year, $1-mil­lion study, which was par­tially paid for by Health Canada and peer-re­viewed by its sci­en­tists.

“This re­port con­firms what we have sus­pected about the as­so­ci­a­tion be­tween the en­vi­ron­men­tal con­tam­i­nants from oil­sands pro­duc­tion and cancer and other ill­ness in our com­mu­nity,” Steve Cour­tor­eille, chief of the Mikisew Cree First Na­tion, said.

“We are greatly alarmed and de­mand fur­ther re­search to ex­pand on these find­ings. It is time govern­ment does some­thing. Enough is enough.”

Al­berta Health Min­is­ter Fred Horne said the prov­ince had not seen the re­port as of Mon­day af­ter­noon, but would re­view its find­ings.

“The thing I would say, and I want to em­pha­size, is that as health min­is­ter I re­ally sym­pa­thize with any com­mu­nity con­cerned about the health of its mem­bers, and I’ve ex­pressed that to the chief,” Horne said.

“Ev­ery­body wants to make sure the best ev­i­dence is used to make de­ci­sions, so we’ll keep work­ing with them in that sphere.”

Sam­ples taken from beavers, ducks, fish, moose and muskrats con­tained high con­cen­tra­tions of car­cino­genic poly­cyclic aro­matic hy­dro­car­bons and lev­els of ar­senic, mer­cury, cad­mium and se­le­nium high enough to be of dan­ger to young chil­dren.

“Many of the re­sults, as they re­late to hu­man health, are alarm­ing,” McLach­lan said. “It should func­tion as a wake-up call to in­dus­try, govern­ment and com­mu­ni­ties alike.

“It is the first time sci­ence has aligned with the lead­er­ship, and we are ring­ing the bell to­gether.”

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 kilo­me­tres north of Fort McMur­ray.

Ed­mon­ton-Strath­con a NDP MP Linda Dun­can joined Al­berta NDP MLA Rachel Not­ley in de­mand­ing some sort of govern­ment in­ter­ven­tion. The study rec­om­mended govern­ment un­der­take a com­pre­hen­sive anal­y­sis.

“What more ev­i­dence does the govern­ment need be­fore it ini­ti­ates a com­pre­hen­sive com­mu­nity-based health study?” Dun­can asked. “What more do they need be­fore they step up to the plate and act?”

Greg String­ham, the vi­cepres­i­dent of the Cana­dian As­so­ci­a­tion of Petroleum Pro­duc­ers, pointed out that one pre­vi­ous study failed to find a con­nec­tion be­tween the oil­sands and el­e­vated cancer rates, but wel­comed the new data.

“In­dus­try is re­ally sup­port­ive of any in­for­ma­tion that leads to the body of ev­i­dence,” String­ham said.

Lib­eral Leader Raj Sher­man, an emer­gency room physi­cian, called on Health Canada to work with the World Health Or­ga­ni­za­tion to com­plete a com­pre­hen­sive study into the health ef­fects of oil­sands de­vel­op­ment in the re­gion.

“The govern­ment of Al­berta has been drag­ging its heels for years on this file,” Sher­man said.

“At the end of the day, the cred­i­bil­ity and in­tegrity of our prov­ince and the oil­sands is at stake here, on a na­tional and in­ter­na­tional stage.”

Stephane McLach­lan

Steve Cour­tor­eille

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