Not only is tar sands bitumen incredibly difficult to clean up when a pipeline ruptures as we learned from the devastating spill in Kalamzoo, Michigan, communities near tar sands refineries are being subjected to intense sulfur dioxide pollution, according to a ForestEthics report.
Burning the gooey bitumen blends that flow through tar sands pipelines releases high levels of sulfur – levels similar to those produced by moderate or large coal-fired power plants, says ForestEthics.
This can aggravate or cause heart and lung problems and has been tied to higher cancer rates in some urban communities, according to the report.
The organization relates the stories of several individuals living near these refineries, including Tammy Thompson, whose home in Joliet, Illinois, was subjected to fumes so nauseating that the family was forced to move when ExxonMobil increased the amount of tar sands used in its nearby refinery.
“When we found out that Canada’s tar sands have such a higher sulfur content, we knew we had to leave our home,” Thompson told ForestEthics.
Refineries that burn tar sands are often located in urban areas where a disproportionately higher number of minority and low-income people live.
African American and Latino communities living near these refineries have a higher cancer risk than the general population, according to several studies by the US Environmental Protection Agency.
"The growing use of Canada's tar sands by U.S. refineries adds another health risk to those already being faced by some of the most disadvantaged communities in the United States," says Aaron Sanger, U.S. Campaign Director at ForestEthics and author of the report.
The map below gives shows where tar sands refineries are located:
The US imports an estimated 99% of what Canada exports in tar sands production.
Pipeline projects such as the notorious 1,700-mile-long Keystone XL are a source of ferocious debate because they threaten environmentally sensitive land and aquifers across America's heartland and because the rights of property owners in its proposed path are being trampled. This report gives you a deeper sense of the human health factors involved.
For the complete analysis, "Tar Sands Refineries Put Communities at Risk":