Port Arthur is a town within Jefferson County, Texas, home to numerous huge refineries that process 900,000 barrels of crude oil a day, and the proposed end destination for the Keystone XL pipeline, that would carry bitumen from Canada’s tar sand pits to the Gulf coast refineries. In a recent article, Ted Genoways, visited the residents of Port Arthur and reported that they are mostly sick and dying, calling it an ‘American Sacrifice Zone’.
The largely low-income, African-American population is trying to relocate after decades of living in the shadow of one of the world’s largest refinery complexes. Due to the occasional flare-off of toxic gases, numerous chimneys belching columns of black smoke into the atmosphere, and the rare accident or leak, Genoways found that residents local to Port Arthur had extremely high rates of disease and death.
Data compiled by the Texas Cancer Registry showed that cancer rates amongst the African-American community living in Jefferson County were 15% higher than in the rest of Texas, and that the mortality rate for those who had cancer was a massive 40% higher than the average Texan.
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A separate study by the University of Texas Medical Branch found that residents of Port Arthur were four times more likely than people who lived 100 miles away, to suffer from heart and respiratory problems, nervous system and skin disorders, headaches and muscle aches, and ear, nose, and throat problems.
On his visit Genoway commented that many of the residents were forced to use respirators or other medical assistance to breathe.
If the Keystone XL pipeline is approved then things are likely to get even worse in Port Arthur. The pipe would deliver an additional 830,000 barrels of crude oil each day, which the refineries would then work to convert into diesel and petroleum coke. Whilst not much is known about the effects of coke, earlier in the year a dark cloud of petroleum coke appeared over Detroit, with a high content of vanadium, a cancer causing metal.
Just one of the refineries in Port Arthur. (NY Times)
When the media reports on fossil fuels, it is generally the long-term effects on the climate that are discussed, but the sad thing is that many other people suffer far more, on a personal level, and it is never reported.
By. Charles Kennedy of Oilprice.com