Doctors demand access to all health data on oilsands

By Sharon Kirkey, Postmedia News August 15, 2012

YELLOWKNIFE, N.W.T. – The Canadian Medical Association is calling for public and timely access to all government and industry data on the potential human health effects of the oilsands and other natural resource development projects.Whether there is any effect from the oilsands is unclear, but the issue has become “a hugely emotional and highly politicized” one, Yellowknife physician Dr. Ewan Affleck said Wednesday, after delegates at the CMA’s annual general council meeting overwhelmingly endorsed better monitoring of the environmental and human health impacts of industrial projects.

“When our patients come to us and say, ‘everyone in our community is getting cancer and we’re scared,’ we’re not sure what to answer,” Affleck said.

“Maybe they’re right, maybe they’re wrong. There hasn’t been clarity.

“All we’re asking for — it’s not a blameworthy thing — is our hope to just have data in order to provide effective care to our patients, because it’s unclear whether there is a health effect.”

Just how political the issue has become was captured in Wednesday’s debate. Delegates were originally asked to support two motions that spoke specifically to the health impacts of the oilsands.

But the wording was changed from “oil sands” to “natural resource extraction projects” after some doctors objected to singling out one industry.

“I am specifically concerned with the optics of what seems to be the targeting of one specific industry,” said Calgary physician Dr. Lloyd Maybaum.

Others agreed that it was important to go beyond oilsands and look at the potential impact of strip mining for coal, shale gas explorations and other projects.

Affleck, of Yellowknife, said research must go beyond studying people alone.

It means looking at the impact on food, water and air quality, as well as on people’s livelihoods, he said. “Are they no longer able to hunt and sell their meat? Have their fisheries gone bad?”

“We know if we don’t measure something, we can’t assess the outcome of it,” added CMA president Dr. Anna Reid.

“We want to look at anything that might impact” the health of patients, she said. “I think that’s something that’s shared by physicians across the country.”

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