Air Pollution and Cancer Spikes linked in Alberta; Alberta’s Oil Legacy: Bad Air and Rare Cancers, Sickening carcinogens now saturate Industrial Heartland, study finds

Carcinogens emitted from Canada’s main fossil fuel hub, study says, U.S. researchers say they found a high incidence of blood cancers among men in Alberta’s ‘Industrial Heartland.’ by Neela Banerjee, October 25, 2013, LA Times
WASHINGTON — A new study has detected air pollutants, including carcinogens, in areas downwind of Canada’s main fossil fuel hub in Alberta at levels rivaling those of major metropolises such as Beijing and Mexico City. The study by researchers from UC Irvine and the University of Michigan also found a high incidence of blood cancers such as leukemia and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma among men in the area, compared with the rest of Alberta and Canada.

“When you get cancers that can be caused by the carcinogens we are seeing, that is reason for concern,” said Isobel J. Simpson, a lead author of the study and a researcher at UC Irvine’s chemistry department. The Alberta government said the study provides an inaccurate picture of pollution in the so-called Industrial Heartland, a three-county area where oil, chemicals and oil sands crude are processed. “Based on the results of our monitoring, we see no evidence to suggest that people in the Industrial Heartland region are exposed to levels of the chemicals indicated in the paper,” said Nikki Booth, spokeswoman for Alberta Environment and Sustainable Resource Development, the provincial regulator. The issue has drawn attention because most of the oil produced in Canada is shipped to the United States.

Three previous studies since 2009 have detected carcinogens in Alberta’s rivers and lakes, near where oil sands are mined. The latest study focuses on a site where oil sands are processed, along with other fossil fuels. The Industrial Heartland, northeast of the provincial capital, Edmonton, is surrounded largely by farmland. The Shell Scotford complex includes a refinery and a facility that processes 225,000 barrels a day of bitumen, a tarry substance that is extracted from northeastern Alberta’s oil sands, diluted with chemicals and piped to the United States.

“We don’t want this to be study after study after study with no action,” Simpson said. “There’s enough here to recommend reducing carcinogens in this area.” [Emphasis added]

Alberta’s Oil Legacy: Bad Air and Rare Cancers, Sickening carcinogens now saturate the province’s Industrial Heartland, study finds by Andrew Nikiforuk, October 24, 2013, TheTyee.ca
Ten known or probable carcinogens now saturate the air downwind of Alberta’s Upgrader Alley, the nation’s largest bitumen and hydrocarbon processing centre, while male blood cancers and leukemia in the region are the highest in the province. …

Alberta’s Industrial Heartland, located in a farming community, is comprised of 40 different chemical, petrochemical and bitumen processing operations spread out over a 582 km area near Fort Saskatchewan. In addition to upgrading bitumen, a heavy sour crude, heartland industries make fertilizer, separate condensate for pipeline shipments to dilute bitumen, and break-up hydrocarbons for the manufacture of plastics, foams and fibres.

Nearby residents and farmers have complained about bad air, hydrogen sulfide pollution, massive flaring and poor regulation in what they also call “Cancer Alley” for years.

2013 10 24 Alberta Toxic Air and Cancers Snap Tyee Related Articles

Edmonton Air Carcinogens: Study Finds Alarming Levels Of Chemicals by Bob Weber, The Canadian Press, October 23, 2013, Huffingtonpost.ca
Researchers went on to find blood cancers in men in the three counties surrounding the heartland to be consistently higher over the years 1997-2006 than for neighbouring counties. “It was the blood cancers in men that stood out statistically,” Simpson said. “That’s occurring in the same place as the emissions of chemicals known to cause those exact cancers.” Nikki Booth of Alberta Environment said the department has reviewed and welcomes the study. But she said staff don’t believe its findings are cause for concern. [Emphasis added]

Heavy Air Pollution in Canada Linked to Cancer Spikes in Rural Region by Catherine Griffin, October 23, 2013, Science World Report
It turns out that heavy air pollution in Canada may be associated with cancer spikes. Scientists have discovered that levels of contaminants higher than in some of the world’s most polluted cities have been found downwind of Canada’s largest oil, gas and tar sands processing zone in a rural area where men suffer elevated rates of cancers linked to such chemicals. In order to examine how this processing zone might be impacting the community downwind from it, the researchers captured emissions in the rural Fort Saskatchewan area. They took one-minute samples at random times in 2008, 2010 and 2012. Despite the random times, though, all of the samples showed similar results; amounts of some dangerous volatile organic compounds were 6,000 times higher than normal. The contaminants that the researchers found included the carcinogens 1,3-butadiene and benzene and other airborne pollutants. Yet in order to see how these pollutants might be impacting the community, the researchers had to investigate a bit further. They gathered health records spanning more than a decade that showed the number of men with leukemia and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma was greater in communities closest to the pollution plumes than in neighboring counties. [Emphasis added]

UCI-led study documents heavy air pollution in Canadian area with cancer spikesCarcinogens detected in emissions downwind of ‘Industrial Heartland’ by UCIrvine News, October 22, 2013

Longtime residents near industrial Alberta have struggled to bring attention to bad odors, health threats and related concerns.

Air quality in the Industrial Heartland of Alberta, Canada and potential impacts on human health by Isobel J. Simpson, Josette E. Marrero, Stuart Batterman, Simone Meinardi, Barbara Barletta, and Donald R. Blake, Available to purchase online October 1, 2013, Atmospheric Environment
dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.atmosenv.2013.09.017

Highlights

Alberta’s Industrial Heartland is Canada’s largest hydrocarbon processing center.

We characterize 77 volatile organic compounds (VOCs) emitted in this region.

Dozens of VOCs, including carcinogens, were enhanced in the industrial plumes.

Sources include propene fractionation, diluent separation and bitumen processing.

Male hematopoietic cancer rates are higher in this region than elsewhere in Alberta.

Abstract

The “Industrial Heartland” of Alberta is Canada’s largest hydrocarbon processing center, with more than 40 major chemical, petrochemical, and oil and gas facilities. Emissions from these industries affect local air quality and human health. This paper characterizes ambient levels of 77 volatile organic compounds (VOCs) in the region using high-precision measurements collected in summer 2010. Remarkably strong enhancements of 43 VOCs were detected, and concentrations in the industrial plumes were often similar to or even higher than levels measured in some of the world’s largest cities and industrial regions. For example maximum levels of propene and i-pentane exceeded 100 ppbv, and 1,3-butadiene, a known carcinogen, reached 27 ppbv. Major VOC sources included propene fractionation, diluent separation and bitumen processing. Emissions of the measured VOCs increased the hydroxyl radical reactivity (kOH), a measure of the potential to form downwind ozone, from 3.4 s−1 in background air to 62 s−1 in the most concentrated plumes. The plume value was comparable to polluted megacity values, and acetaldehyde, propene and 1,3-butadiene contributed over half of the plume kOH. Based on a 13-year record (1994–2006) at the county level, the incidence of male hematopoietic cancers (leukemia and non-Hodgkin lymphoma) was higher in communities closest to the Industrial Heartland compared to neighboring counties. While a causal association between these cancers and exposure to industrial emissions cannot be confirmed, this pattern and the elevated VOC levels warrant actions to reduce emissions of known carcinogens, including benzene and 1,3-butadiene.

Air pollution north of Edmonton as bad as world’s largest cities: study by Canadian Press, October 23, 2013, Calgary Herald
A newly published study says air downwind from a cluster of petrochemical plants northeast of Edmonton contains pollutants at levels equal to some of the world’s largest cities. Other pollutants, including some known to cause cancer, also measured well above normal. And cancer rates linked to those chemicals were found to be higher in communities closest to the so-called Industrial Heartland. Although scientists don’t definitively link the two, one of the report’s co-authors said the findings raise concern about the possible long-term effects of exposure to petrochemical emissions. “We’re suggesting a prudent approach — reduce the carcinogens now as a preventative measure,” said Isobel Simpson, a chemist at the University of California Irvine and co-author of the report published online by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

An Alberta government spokeswoman said the report doesn’t necessarily reflect real human exposure to the pollutants. The area, 30 kilometres northeast of Edmonton and adjacent to the town of Fort Saskatchewan, now holds Canada’s largest concentration of petrochemical processors. More than 40 companies, including majors such as Shell and Imperial Oil, are spread out over nearly 600 square kilometres. Simpson said her lab became interested in 2008, when they were invited to participate in an environmental impact study for a project in the region. “We were surprised at some of the levels of volatile organic compounds we found.” The team returned two years later and, over the course of two days in August, they took highly precise readings of 77 different compounds downwind of petrochemical facilities and compared them with samples taken upwind at an area farm. They found smog-causing chemicals in the air at levels comparable to — and occasionally many times higher than — some of the world’s largest cities and industrial complexes. Those include Mexico City, Beijing and Tokyo as well as Houston, home to the largest petrochemical manufacturing centre in the U.S. “Each time we find the same thing,” said Simpson. “We can get ourselves into an industrial plume and see concentrations for some gases that are higher than what we see when we go to megacities and go looking for dirty air.” Some chemicals were up to 6,200 times more concentrated downwind of industry than in farm samples. “That is not a surprise,” she said. “What’s concerning is the number of carcinogens that we measured. What you don’t want to see is elevated levels of those carcinogens in these plumes and that’s what we saw.”

At least 10 chemicals found in the plumes are either known or suspected carcinogens. Benzene, conclusively linked to blood cancers, was measured at 77 times background levels. Other chemicals were hundreds of times higher. Researchers went on to find blood cancers in men in the three counties surrounding the heartland to be consistently higher over the years 1997-2006 than for neighbouring counties.

“It was the blood cancers in men that stood out statistically,” Simpson said. “That’s occurring in the same place as the emissions of chemicals known to cause those exact cancers. We are stopping short of saying one caused the other. But it certainly seems plausible.”

Nikki Booth of Alberta Environment said the department has reviewed and welcomes the study. But she said staff don’t believe its findings are cause for concern. “The locations where the data was collected do not necessarily represent the locations where people are exposed,” she said in an email. “Calls for an immediate reduction in emissions of known carcinogens cannot actually be supported by the data collected in the report.” Staff are also concerned about methods used to collect the samples, she added.

Simpson acknowledges the chemical levels reported in the study remain under the government’s exposure guidelines. But she said those guidelines are aimed at short-term exposures — not long-term low levels. The study says recent research suggests there is probably no safe exposure level to benzene. “It’s certainly enough for us to recommend reducing the emissions of these known carcinogens,” said Simpson, “especially given that the relationship between exposures over long time periods with benzene isn’t well understood.” [Emphasis added]

Alberta Health Services shunts Albertan questioning health impacts caused by hydraulic fracturing

Above 2012 Email from Alberta Health Services to Jessica Ernst, in response to her questions and concerns about peer-reviewed studies in the US indicating significant negative health impacts from oil and gas drilling and hydraulic fracturing.

Air Pollution Is a Leading Cause of Cancer by Kate Kelland and Stephanie Nebehay, October 17, 2013, Scientific American
The air we breathe is laced with cancer-causing substances and is being officially classified as carcinogenic to humans, the World Health Organization’s cancer agency said on Thursday. The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) cited data indicating that in 2010, 223,000 deaths from lung cancer worldwide resulted from air pollution, and said there was also convincing evidence it increases the risk of bladder cancer. Depending on the level of exposure in different parts of the world, the risk was found to be similar to that of breathing in second-hand tobacco smoke, Kurt Straif, head of the agency’s section that ranks carcinogens, told reporters in Geneva. “Our task was to evaluate the air everyone breathes rather than focus on specific air pollutants,” deputy head Dana Loomis said in a statement. “The results from the reviewed studies point in the same direction: the risk of developing lung cancer is significantly increased in people exposed to air pollution.”

Air pollution, mostly caused by transport, power generation, industrial or agricultural emissions and residential heating and cooking, is already known to raise risks for a wide range of illnesses including respiratory and heart diseases. Research suggests that exposure levels have risen significantly in some parts of the world, particularly countries with large populations going through rapid industrialization, such as China. IARC reviewed thousands of studies on air pollution tracking populations over decades and other research such as those in which mice exposed to polluted air experienced increased numbers of lung tumors. In a statement released after reviewing the literature, the Lyon-based agency said both air pollution and “particulate matter” – a major component of it – would now be classified among its Group 1 human carcinogens. That ranks them alongside more than 100 other known cancer-causing substances in IARC’s Group 1, including asbestos, plutonium, silica dust, ultraviolet radiation and tobacco smoke.

But although both the composition and levels of air pollution can vary dramatically from one location to the next, IARC said its conclusions applied to all regions of the world. “Our conclusion is that this is a leading environmental cause of cancer deaths,” Dr. Christopher Wild, director of IARC, told the news briefing in Geneva.

IARC’s ranking monographs program, sometimes known as the “encyclopedia of carcinogens”, aims to be an authoritative source of scientific evidence on cancer-causing substances. It has already classified many chemicals and mixtures that can be components of air pollution, including diesel engine exhaust, solvents, metals and dusts. But this is the first time that experts have classified air pollution as a cause of cancer.  Asked why it had taken so long to reach the conclusion, he said that one problem was the time lag between exposure to polluted air and the onset of cancer. “Often we’re looking at two, three or four decades once an exposure is introduced before there is sufficient impact on the burden of cancer in the population to be able to study this type of question,” he said.

Air Pollution and Cancer Spikes linked in Alberta by Environmental News Network, October 22, 2013
Alberta is Canada’s industry epicenter and home to more than 40 companies that produce industrial emissions. Recent studies conducted by the University of California and the University of Michigan have indicated higher levels of contaminants which can potentially be linked to spikes in the incidences of cancer in the region. The findings by UC Irvine and University of Michigan scientists, published online this week, reveal high levels of the carcinogens 1,3-butadiene and benzene and other airborne pollutants. The researchers also obtained health records spanning more than a decade that showed the number of men with leukemia and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma was greater in communities closest to the pollution plumes than in neighboring counties. The work is a dramatic illustration of a new World Health Organization report that outdoor air pollution is a leading cause of cancer. While the scientists stopped short of saying that the pollutants they documented were definitely causing the male cancers, they strongly recommended that the industrial emissions be decreased to protect both workers and nearby residents.

“Our study was designed to test what kinds of concentrations could be encountered on the ground during a random visit downwind of various facilities. We’re seeing elevated levels of carcinogens and other gases in the same area where we’re seeing excess cancers known to be caused by these chemicals,” said UC Irvine chemist Isobel Simpson, lead author of the paper in Atmospheric Environment. “Our main point is that it would be good to proactively lower these emissions of known carcinogens. You can study it and study it, but at some point you just have to say, ‘Let’s reduce it.'”

Co-author Stuart Batterman, a University of Michigan professor of environmental health sciences, agreed: “These levels, found over a broad area, are clearly associated with industrial emissions. They also are evidence of major regulatory gaps in monitoring and controlling such emissions and in public health surveillance.”

The researchers captured emissions in the rural Fort Saskatchewan area downwind of major refineries, chemical manufacturers and tar sands processors owned by BP, Dow, Shell and other companies in the so-called “Industrial Heartland” of Alberta. They took one-minute samples at random times in 2008, 2010 and 2012. All showed similar results. Amounts of some dangerous volatile organic compounds were 6,000 times higher than normal. 

Heavy air pollution linked to cancer spikes Press Release by University of California, October 22, 2013
IRVINE — Levels of contaminants higher than in some of the world’s most polluted cities have been found downwind of Canada’s largest oil, gas and tar sands processing zone, in a rural area where men suffer elevated rates of cancers linked to such chemicals.

The findings by UC Irvine and University of Michigan scientists, published online this week, reveal high levels of the carcinogens 1,3-butadiene and benzene and other airborne pollutants. The researchers also obtained health records spanning more than a decade that showed the number of men with leukemia and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma was greater in communities closest to the pollution plumes than in neighboring counties. The work is a dramatic illustration of a new World Health Organization report that outdoor air pollution is a leading cause of cancer.

While the scientists stopped short of saying that the pollutants they documented were definitely causing the male cancers, they strongly recommended that the industrial emissions be decreased to protect both workers and nearby residents. “Our study was designed to test what kinds of concentrations could be encountered on the ground during a random visit downwind of various facilities. We’re seeing elevated levels of carcinogens and other gases in the same area where we’re seeing excess cancers known to be caused by these chemicals,” said UC Irvine chemist Isobel Simpson, lead author of the paper in Atmospheric Environment. “Our main point is that it would be good to proactively lower these emissions of known carcinogens. You can study it and study it, but at some point you just have to say, ‘Let’s reduce it.’ “

Co-author Stuart Batterman, a University of Michigan professor of environmental health sciences, agreed: “These levels, found over a broad area, are clearly associated with industrial emissions. They also are evidence of major regulatory gaps in monitoring and controlling such emissions and in public health surveillance.”

The researchers captured emissions in the rural Fort Saskatchewan area downwind of major refineries, chemical manufacturers and tar sands processors owned by BP, Dow, Shell and other companies in the so-called “Industrial Heartland” of Alberta. They took one-minute samples at random times in 2008, 2010 and 2012. All showed similar results. Amounts of some dangerous volatile organic compounds were 6,000 times higher than normal.

“For decades, we’ve known that exposure to outdoor air pollutants can cause respiratory and cardiovascular disease,” Batterman said. “The World Health Organization has now also formally recognized that outdoor air pollution is a leading environmental cause of cancer deaths.”

Longtime residents near industrial Alberta have struggled to bring attention to bad odors, health threats and related concerns. The peer-reviewed study is one of few in the region and more investigation of the large and complex facilities is needed.

For example, Simpson said, it appeared in some cases that the companies were not reporting all of the tons of chemicals they release. She and her colleagues documented high levels of 1,3-butadiene that could only have come from one facility, but she said the company had not reported any such emissions.

Other authors are Josette Marrero, Simone Meinardi, Barbara Barletta and Donald Blake, all of UC Irvine.

[Refer also to:

What’s Behind Surging Ozone Pollution in Texas? Study to Weigh Role of Fracking in Health Hazard

This Is Your Brain on Toxins. How many from drilling and hydraulic fracturing?

3 tobacco companies in $27B lawsuit begin their defence, Defence’s witness argues dangers of smoking have been common knowledge for decades

Extreme Levels of Benzene Floating Around Gas Wells and Compressor Stations; Fracking effects: A long-term study of drilling’s impact shows harmful health effects

First Study of Its Kind Detects 44 Hazardous Air Pollutants at Gas Drilling Sites, With gas wells in some states being drilled near schools and homes, scientists see a need for better chemical disclosure laws and follow-up research

What Lies Beneath: CCTV America Investigation into Hydraulic Fracturing Interviews Alberta landowners, including former oil engineer, fracing fumes damaging health ]

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