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Tar Sands Oil Poisons Our Air and Contaminates Our Clean Water

Tar Sands Oil Poisons Our Air

Processing tar sands oil releases pollutants directly linked to asthma, emphysema and birth defects into American communities. Because tar sands oil is a heavy, low-quality form of crude, it requires extensive "upgrading" to be transformed into fuel. Refining tar sands crude creates far more air pollution in American communities that are already burdened with cancer and poor air quality as a result of oil industry activities. Tar sands oil contains, among other toxic metals, 11 times more sulfur and nickel, six times more nitrogen, and five times more lead than conventional crude oil.

Heavy metals and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons released in tar sands refining have been linked to pre-natal brain damage. Nitrogen oxides, along with volatile organic compounds released in tar sands refining are the principal causes of smog and ground-level ozone. Exposure to nitrogen oxides is a direct cause of asthma, emphysema and other lung diseases. With plans to triple refining and transportation of tar sands by 2015, there is no question that air pollution and health problems in communities from the Great Lakes to the Gulf Coast will increase.

Tar Sands Oil Contaminates Our Clean Water

Tar sands production wastes and contaminates tremendous amounts of water. Every barrel of oil produced requires four barrels of water. In this process, water is pumped into toxic waste reservoirs large enough to be seen from space. The mercury, lead and arsenic in tar sands waste threaten human health, even at small levels of exposure. Already, communities downstream from tar sands mines in Canada report 30 percent more incidents of rare bile duct cancer than those who do not live near the tar sands.

Expanded reliance on this dirty oil would put important American water sources at risk. Canadian pipeline companies currently operate 1,900 miles of oil pipelines in and around the Great Lakes watershed, which supplies 25 million people with drinking water. Tar sands oil contains elevated levels of many known carcinogens and toxins. In a recent study, tar sands wastewater "tailings" from extracting oil were found to contain ammonia, benzene, cyanide, phenols, toluene, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, arsenic, copper, sulphate, and chloride.3 Many of these chemicals are highly toxic and known to cause cancer, and regularly leach into groundwater from the massive lakes used to store tailings.4 These chemicals are present in tar sands oil before and after processing, and will end up in American groundwater when pipelines leak.

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