02/12/2014 05:25 EST | Updated 04/14/2014 05:59 EDT

Tar Sands Communities Flee Homes to Escape Emissions, Panel Told

As the Alberta government was celebrating the State Department analysis into the effects of the KeystoneXL tar sands pipeline, several Peace River residents were at a hearing talking about the tar sands emissions that they've been dealing with since 2011.

Since 2011 residents have watched as their cattle got sick, then as their family members did as well.

The main source of the problem is believed to be emissions from a Baytex tar sands facility. But Shell, Husky, Murphy Oil, and Tervita operations (some of which are also tar sands facilities) also seem to be contributing to the worrisome situation.

The emissions have forced many in the region to pick up stakes and leave, simply abandoning their farms and dreams.

The residents claim the emissions coming off heated bitumen tanks were causing health problems, including headaches, dizziness, and cognitive impairment -- symptoms that went away when they moved away.

Adding to the troublesome situation is a recent report that shows that doctors in the area are reluctant to treat patients who draw connections between the burgeoning oil industry and their personal health problems. Here's just a sample of the problem from a recent Vancouver Observer article on the subject:

"Following a troubling year when Labrecque suffered dizziness, fatigue, and migraines that felt like a "2-by-4" to her head, she said she decided to get herself checked out with a doctor in 2011.

Her nasal passages were "overwhelmingly red", and she had recently fallen down the stairs while doing laundry. Her two kids and husband Alain had similar woes. The family lived just 500 metres from four bitumen tanks that reeked of sulphur.

When she finally met with an ear-throat-and-nose specialist in Grande Prairie who diagnosed her with having airborne pollution, his advice stunned her.

"He just told me to move," Labrecque said under oath at the hearing that ended Friday.

"He said... you are just a small, little bolt in this huge robot, and you don't matter. Move."

The Peace River land owners aren't hopeful that the long overdue hearings will provide much relief, especially when the Alberta Energy regulator's experts believe it may just be in their heads.

According to Sheila Pratt with the Edmonton Journal who was live tweeting the event said,

"AER expert says people who are unhappy with an oil and gas facility or see no benefit likely to have health symptoms. #ejlive"

I can't imagine how it would feel after I've seen my cattle die, my daughter almost fall down the stairs because of chronic headaches and dizziness, and my family get sick to the point we had to leave our farm and move into our parents basement. And then to be told that it's not the constant tar sands emissions that are the problem, but my attitude to the oil and gas industry.

Maybe the Alberta and Federal government should take rancher Carmen Langer's advice and instead of flying around the world, pushing new infrastructure projects, and saying how little tar sands impacts are they should start actually addressing them.

Tar sands impacts don't go away just because you ignore them. They get worse when you add to the damage. People getting sick and doctors afraid to even treat patients are extreme warning signs of a Province out of control.

Peace River families deserve better than what the Alberta government is giving them. But so do the rest of us.

If the government doesn't protect these families or express concern when doctors are afraid to offend the oil industry, what else aren't we being told and what will they do when someone you know gets sick?

We can't let this go on, and we can't keep adding to the damage. Albertans are supposed to care about our neighbours but it's hard to hear their cries above all the heavy haulers.

You can follow Mike on twitter @mikehudema You can view his original post on storify at: