Last week the Alberta Energy Regulator (AER) released its report into the on-going emission and health issues in Peace River, Alta.
Residents in Peace River, since the 90s, have been complaining about health effects they were experiencing due to tarsands emissions.
In 2010 the government finally started looking into the claims although they were originally dismissed, it was only yesterday that the government's energy regulator finally confirmed what local residents had been saying all along - tar sands emissions were likely responsible for making them sick.
Residents repeatedly wrote to the government about the health issues their families were facing. Health issues that included headaches, disorientation, blackouts leading to bad falls, night sweats, chronic nose and throat irritation, lung congestion, chronic coughing, reduced sense of smell, extreme fatigue and swollen lymph glands. Their pleas for help are truly heart breaking:
"I have two young children who I initially thought were going through a clumsy stage related to either a growth spurt or simply due to their age but now I know that they were being poisoned," writes Karla Labrecque on her website.
"My three-year-old looked like he was a ghost most days while my two-year-old would repeatedly lose her balance while sitting and fall off furniture. Since making the difficult decision to leave our farm, both my children have made dramatic recoveries but I can't help but think about what long-term effects they may suffer."
Rancher Carmen Langer told a similar story:
"Three generations built this farm and now industry pollution is taking it away from us," says Langer, who recently sold his cattle. "We're done. I won't sell my home contaminated. We're not that kind of people."
Perhaps the most telling account was a 2012 letter local residents Vivanne and Marcel Laliberte wrote to then Alberta Premier Alison Redford:
"Every breath we take when at home is poisoning us. We believe that the air contaminants have been absorbed into the materials of our home and are retained there. We are in temporary accommodations in Peace River. Promises such as, 'We are working on it' or 'We are hoping for changes at some unspecified time in the future' don't pay our electricity, heating and telephone bills."
"We are reading Barbara Coloroso's book, The Bully, the Bullied, and the Bystander. We are anxious to get to the part that explains how to get a bully to feel empathy. We are far more interested in building an empathic society, where the well-being of all is paramount, rather than one in which contemptuous bullies rule and the well-being of the shareholder reigns supreme."
It's a good thing that this community is finally getting some answers but it is a very large tragedy that it took so long.
It makes you wonder how many other voices that complain about tar sands impacts are being ignored. Fort Chipewyan's calls for independent health inquiry, the cancer concerns in Fort Saskatchewan are just two, both recently echoed by the Edmonton Journal's editorial board, the fact that some doctors may not comfortable treating oil-symptom patients is another.
The other very troubling thing the report showed was that the government has a huge information gap when it comes to the impacts of tar sands development. The report shows that tar sands impacts will be different given differences in things like geology and wind patterns and regulations should, but don't, currently reflect that. It also shows that, once again, Alberta's monitoring system is inadequate.
The Alberta government's "approve first, and find out later"-attitude to tarsands development needs to change. A pragmatic approach, following this report, would see new tarsands projects being put on hold while investigations and new safety measures and regulations are put in place.
Hopefully this report will be the wake-up call the Alberta government needs to start putting community and environmental health first - but I'm not holding my breath on Alberta's new Premier Dave Hancock will do that.
But why don't you give him a call at 780-427-2251 (in Edmonton, toll free in Alberta at 310-0000, or outside Alberta at 780-427-2711 and ask him yourself? ;)