A new government inquiry into a wave of sickness in Alberta, Canada, suggests that residents’ conditions may be linked to Canada’s controversial oil sands developments. The inquiry also finds that area doctors may be afraid to speak out when patients suggest that the oil developments could be the cause of their health problems, according to the Edmonton Journal.
The survey of doctors was conducted by Dr. Margaret Sears, a toxicology expert hired by the Alberta Energy Regulator. Sears and other experts were tasked with analyzing the health effects of the oil sands operations in preparation for a 10-day government hearing to address residents’ health complaints around the Peace River oil sands, Canada’s third largest oil sands development.
For the past two years, since Canadian company Baytex Energy began drilling dozens of wells to extract oil-rich bitumen around Peace River, a remote and sparsely populated community in northern Alberta, residents have complained of, “powerful, gassy smells and symptoms including severe headaches, dizziness, sinus congestion, muscle spasms, popping ears, memory loss, numbness, constipation, diarrhea, vomiting, eye twitching and fatigue,” according to the Toronto Star.
Shell also owns wells in the area.
At issue are above-ground tanks used to heat bitumen, a rock formation largely comprised of carbon. The tanks have no lids, and residents say the overpowering smell has caused all sorts of health issues.
But when residents reported their symptoms to doctors in the area, physicians were reluctant to consider the oil sands as a reason for their illness, according to Sears’ investigation. In at least one instance, a patient was turned away after suggesting that their symptoms were due to oil developments.