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Toxic Tar Sands: Alberta

George Poitras
Mikisew Cree First Nation, Fort Chipewyan, Alberta

"My people are dying," says George Poitras, a member of the Mikisew Cree First Nation in Fort Chipewyan, Alberta. His community, situated just downstream from the vast toxic moonscape of tar sands development in Alberta, has absorbed some of the worst damage from the project.

"The extraction of oil from Canada's tar sands is having a devastating impact on our indigenous people," Poitras says.

"My people are dying."
Studies have found levels of mercury, arsenic, lead, and other toxins at elevated levels near the area's tar sands excavation sites. These chemicals are known carcinogens and cause the types of rare cancers-including cancer of the bile ducts-that are on the rise among members of the Fort Chipewyan community. Statistically, bile duct cancer normally occurs in one out of every 100,000 people. But a study by the Alberta Cancer Board confirmed these cancer rates at Fort Chipewyan are 30 percent higher than average.

Poitras has been on a mission to raise awareness about the harmful effects of tar sands development on his community's health-ever since 2006, when Fort Chipewyan's general physician, Dr. John O'Connor, went public in the press about the unusual cancers among the patients he served.

For the past four years, Poitras has been spreading the word about the risks of tar sands oil at colleges and universities, public forums, and even at oil companies' annual meetings. He and other indigenous activists have collaborated on documentary films about the tar sands that have been shown in film festivals around the world. "The damage from the tar sands isn't restricted to Fort Chipewyan or even to Alberta," he says. There are pipelines that leak oil, and tar sands refining is a huge contributor to global greenhouse emissions. We call the tar sands 'bloody oil.'"

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