Toxins from refineries processing tar sands bitumen are dangerously polluting the air of local communities in the United States, according to a recent report by ForestEthics. Areas surrounding tar sands refineries - where a higher proportion of society's vulnerable minority, aging and poor communities live - exhibit intense levels of sulfur dioxide (SO2) as a result of the high sulfur content of bitumen feed stocks used in the process. Sulfur dioxide pollution is associated with asthma and heart disease.
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“The growing use of Canada's tar sands by U.S. refineries adds another health risk to those already being faced by some of the most disadvantaged communities in the United States,” said Aaron Sanger, U.S. Campaigns Director at ForestEthics and author of the report, in a press release.
At current rates, the U.S. imports 99 percent of Canadian bitumen exports. That oil is refined near low-income areas, meaning the health effects fall disproportionately on communities with disadvantaged groups. African American and Latino populations suffer higher cancer risks from refinery pollutants than the general population, according to the EPA.