Community leaders lobbying for expanded oil sands health study

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Community leaders lobbying for expanded oil sands health study

An oil sands health study, could put the viability of two communities in the heart of industry development under the microscope.

Although a provincial announcement last year included support only for Fort McKay, First Nation leaders in Fort Chipewyan are calling for their own community-led analysis, as promised by government more than three years ago.

Fort McKay's Community Health Director Dr. John O'Connor says the study will analyze both genetic and environmental factors.

"Given the findings of independent scientific studies that have been supported by provincial and federal scientific bodies now, that have revealed significant and serious toxin burdens downstream of the tar sands that could very well be having an impact on the health of fish and wildlife, the flora and fauna, the water and especially residents downstream."

Nearly year after the commitment of operational support for the study was made negotiations have been ongoing, but O'Connor says progress remains sluggish.

"It's like molasses running up hill unfortunately, on the other hand, at least it's moving, I feel very empathetic and sympathetic with the people that have been living downstream all their lives, who call communities downstream from the tar sands home, because they've been advocating for themselves and for the issues they've seen in their community, the evidence of industry development and its impact, but to no avail."

A provincial government study released in 2009 confirmed Fort Chipewyan residents were experiencing elevated cancer rates, a concerning trend O'Connor says must be explored in both hamlets.

O'Connor is hopeful negotiations with the province will resume this Fall, adding that a time line for implementation has yet to be finalized.
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