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The noxious fumes from the oil refinery near Tammy Thompson’s house in Joliet, Illinois were so nauseating that she had a hard time driving around the neighborhood without running her car off the road. When ExxonMobil decided to increase the amount of toxic tar sands that it burned at its Joliet refinery, Thompson knew that her family couldn’t stomach any more sulfurous air pollution, so they moved away.
“When we found out that Canada’s tar sands have such a higher sulfur content, we knew we had to leave our home,” Thompson said.
Gooey blends of bitumen and corrosive chemicals from the tar sands in northern Alberta are being used by US refineries to make the transportation fuels that move our economy. Burning these toxic ‘bitumen blends’ from the tar sands releases high levels of sulfur dioxide pollution into the atmosphere, which causes, or aggravates, heart and lung health problems.
In a new report, Aaron Sanger, our US Campaign Director, explains how tar sands refineries are polluting US communities with increased levels of sulfur dioxide.
“The growing use of Canada’s tar sands by US refineries adds another severe health risk to those already being faced by some of the most disadvantaged communities in the United States,” Sanger said.
The tar sands refineries are scattered throughout the US, mostly in urban areas. The communities surrounding these refineries typically have a large number of residents from minority and low-income groups.
The health risk from refining the bitumen blend is just another example of why Canada’s tar sands are the world’s dirtiest source of transportation energy. Forests, rivers and air quality in Alberta are suffering because of the extreme measures required to extract tar sands. The corrosive substance is sent to the US in pipelines, among other methods, which have been known to burst and pollute the environment.
To read more about Thompson and others’ nightmares of living in tar sands refinery neighborhoods, check out the report, Tar Sands Refineries: Communities at Risk.