New Harvard Medical School Report: Oil-Focused Energy; Policy Takes Toll on Human Health
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U.S. Newswire
9 April, 2002

BOSTON, April 9 /U.S. Newswire/ -- Amid highly charged energy policies being debated in Congress, a new report published today by the Center for Health and the Global Environment at Harvard Medical School captures the full spectrum of human health and environmental damages associated with our dependence on oil. "Oil: A Life Cycle Analysis of Its Health and Environmental Impacts," is the first report to catalog the dangers to people and ecosystems from exploration, drilling, extraction, transport, refining and combustion. Among these dangers are elevated rates of fatalities and injuries for oil extraction workers and high risks of exposure to cancer-causing chemicals for refinery workers and neighboring communities.

The report's release follows the defeat by Congress in March of a measure to increase fuel efficiency in cars, and in the midst of a heated fight over drilling for new oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

"Up to now, policy makers have largely ignored the full spectrum of harm to human health and environmental damage posed by our continued over-dependence on fossil fuels like oil," said co-editor Dr. Paul Epstein of Harvard Medical School's Center for Health and the Global Environment. "We present these findings with the strong hope that public health and safety will be studied further in order to understand the true costs of our use of oil."

Threats posed at each stage of the oil lifecycle include:

  • Extraction: Occupationally-related fatalities among workers in the oil and gas extraction processes are higher than deaths for workers from all other U.S. industries combined. Oil well workers risk injury and chronic disease from exposure to chemicals such as cadmium, arsenic, cyanide, lead and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs).
  • Oil Transport: Many leaks and spills occur in developing nations where pipeline and oil rig safety regulations are inadequately enforced, posing particularly high threats to local environments and human communities.
  • Refining: Refinery workers' health is threatened through accidents and from cancer (leukemia), associated with exposure to petroleum by-products such as benzene. Again, these threats are even greater in developing nations and poor communities where labor, safety, emissions standards and environmental laws are lacking or weakly enforced.
  • Combustion: Chemical and particulate air pollution are related to heart and lung disease (chronic obstructive lung disease and asthma) and premature death. Acid rain leaches lead, copper and aluminum into drinking water and climate change caused be excess carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere are associated with more extreme weather events and the spread of infectious diseases.

The report also describes various harmful impacts of the oil lifecycle on animals and ecosystems. The report's authors hope their initial findings will also encourage Congress and the White House to take a new direction in energy policy.

"Our national policymakers appear to be pursuing a path of continued reliance on oil and coal exploration and combustion," Dr. Epstein said. "But considering the true costs of such a course -- as well as the potential economic benefits of energy conservation and investment in new energy technologies -- can help guide us towards clean development in the coming decades."

Copyright 2002, U.S. Newswire
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