Sen. Boxer Links Keystone Pipeline to Cancer

February 27, 2014 - 11:36 AM

Building the Keystone XL pipeline may cause people to get cancer, Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) warned Wednesday at a Capitol Hill news conference.

"How are more Americans with cancer in the national interest? How is it in the national interest when kids playing baseball have to duck and cover from dangerous pollution?," Boxer said, making her case against building the oil pipeline.

Sen. Boxer also claimed people in Canada "impacted by tar sands extraction" of oil have developed cancer:

Dr. John O'Connor, a doctor in Alberta, Canada, will talk about how his patients have been impacted by tar sands extraction. Just two months ago, a man named John Chadi was diagnosed with an extremely rare and incurable cancer of the bile duct. This is a tragic situation for John and his family, but it is also very frightening for his community, which is located downstream from a major tar sands extraction site in Alberta. There are other cases in Fort Chipewynn of this extremely rare type of cancer, and several other suspected cases over the past decade. The rate for this cancer is 30 percent higher than average in Fort Chipewyan, where elevated levels of carcinogens and mercury have been documented.

After tar sands are extracted, they must be processed, and the refinery stage also poses health risks. Dr. Stuart Batterman, a Professor from the University of Michigan, will tell us about his research which found significantly higher levels of dangerous air pollutants and carcinogens downwind from a tar sands refinery near Edmonton, Alberta. He will explain how in the areas where elevated levels have been reported, people are suffering higher rates of the types of cancers linked to these toxic chemicals, including leukemia and non-Hodgkin's lymphoma.

"The health impacts of tar sands oil are being ignored. This press conference is about waking up Americans that more tar sands coming into this country is a danger to the health of our people, all along the way, from the extraction to the transport, to the refining," she said.

Boxer and Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) have sent a letter to Secretary of State John Kerry asking for a "comprehensive human health impacts study" analyzing how the pipeline would impact respiratory illnesses, cancer and other health issues.

"We need to clearly understand that as tar sands oil flows to our Gulf Coast refineries, it will increase the toxic pollution that already plagues communities like Port Arthur, Texas, which is near many refineries that will process tar sands. As we will hear from Hilton Kelley, a community representative, Port Arthur is on the EPA's list of cities with dangerous ozone levels, and its residents suffer from asthma, respiratory ailments, skin irritations, and cancer," Boxer said.

Given Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid's (D.-Nev.) objection to anecdotal health evidence yesterday, it's interesting that Boxer chose to use anecdotal health evidence to bolster her argument against the Keystone pipeline.

Boxer's focus on health impacts from the pipeline represents a new tactic from the Democrats, as a decision on the Keystone XL pipeline, a $5.4 billion project, is set to happen "in a couple of months," according to President Obama.