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Buyout packages allegedly silence Albertans struck with industry-related cancer

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“Based on the level of that monitoring, we don't see any evidence that people in the Heartland region are exposed to any of the chemicals indicated in the paper,” she said.

“We welcome and review all these reports and it is important to the body of knowledge in the area. And we're fortunate in Alberta that it's rated as low-risk 94% of the time,” she added.

Booth also noted the time frame that the scientists took to collect the data. “The biggest difference is that their samples is in a two-day period in the ‘high plume’ area. And we don't collect just in the high plume area but in the places where people actually reside,” she said.

 Simpson admits the study does not conclusively associate cancer with the air pollutants found they found, such as Benzene, which is emitted from petroleum products.

Chart from the University of Irvine study that found high rates of blood-related cancer among men.

“Because the toxicity of Benzene over the long term isn't well understood, we're recommending already reducing the emissions of known carcinogens in this area. In other words, not waiting to see more cancers. There’s a lag of when you're exposed to carcinogens to when the cancer develops. So take a prudent approach and reduce the emissions,” Simpson said.

The World Health Organization released research almost the same time as the Irvine study, which concluded that air pollution as a whole causes cancer and must be designated in general as a carcinogen. The organization already linked Benzene to cancer prior to the over 1000 worldwide studies pooled together for the research.

But the government has no plan to heed the Irvine study's recommendations. “Their call for a reduction... our numbers don't show that those numbers are what people are being exposed to in the Industrial Heartland," Booth said.

Eriel Deranger, of the of the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation, said her community also has seen a higher rate of cancer – despite being 160 km downstream of the nearest project.

Her people believe they are acquiring cancer because they hunt and rely on the land for food, she said. “A lot of the same compounds that are found in the Industrial Heartland area are being found in high concentration levels in the species that we're eating,” Deranger said.

Pack your bags, find another place to live

So why not just move? Critics would argue it’s a simple enough solution to to pack one’s bags.

Browne said that she was once actually part of the Land Trust Society, which oversees the buyout programs. When her subdivision was ruled out of the application, she resigned.

During the 2010 NEB hearings, people were conflicted over whether to participate, hoping not to jeopardize their applications for the buyout, Brown said. “If you're desperate and you want to get out, you may not go to that hearing so that your name will stay on the top of the list. So you may give up your fundamental right to speak at this hearing. For a chance to possibly get out,” she said.

Even if she was eligible, moving isn’t that simple – her youngest son is still in high school and her husband, who works in the Fort Saskatchewan county, is up for retirement soon. “We have participated in every process that we possibly could have in and to have our concerns heard since the day we heard about this development in May 2001. 

"It has consumed our lives but even to this day, we hope that we will be able to protect what we have – our quality of life, our health, and our property value,” she said.

Deranger cited both research and traditional beliefs to explain why the Athebasca Chipeweyan First Nation decide to stay put. “You can’t debate science. Science says that the planet sustains us. And the things that sustain us, we look at as Mother Earth.

“For First Nations people to just move away, for us it’s like abandoning our mother.”



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