Job Security: Practicing Medicine in a Toxic Environment

You know, I don't expect physicians to automatically be tree-hugging environmentalists, and I've known quite a few who are considerably right-of-center. I don't really have a problem with that, because I'm impressed with the sacrifices they've made and their concern for the health of their patients. But every now and then, I see behavior that just blows my mind, and DOCTOR Jim Forrester's bill S520 is one of them:

The Environmental Review Commission may study the desirability of encouraging the offshore drilling exploration for oil or natural gas in coastal waters within the State's jurisdiction of 3.5 miles. The Environmental Review Commission may study whether to urge the United States Congress to pass legislation to either authorize the offshore drilling exploration for oil or natural gas in territorial waters within federal jurisdiction or delegate this authority to the individual states. Further, the Environmental Review Commission may study whether to urge the United States Congress and the United States Department of the Interior to support expanding the role of offshore drilling in our State's coastal waters and to support developing an oil refinery in eastern North Carolina in order to stimulate jobs' creation and restore the State's economy.

Okay, you folks are pretty familiar with my opinions on offshore drilling, so I'm not going to harp on that in this diary. Except maybe to say, "Within 3.5 miles of the coast? Are you fricking insane?"

What I do want to talk about is the "support developing an oil refinery in eastern North Carolina" section of this foolish piece of legislation. I call it foolish for more reasons than its readily apparent foolishness. For one, DOCTOR Forrester is the only sponsor (tumbleweed blows through town), and two, he's asking one commission to duplicate/circumvent another commission's function. But I digest. I was talking about DOCTORS who think it's okay to pollute our air, ground and water with carcinogens and other toxins.

From a report prepared for Henry Waxman:

Oil refineries are one of the major sources of toxic air emissions in the United States. Air
pollutants are considered “toxic” when they have the potential to cause serious adverse health
effects, such as cancer, neurotoxicity, or reproductive toxicity. Examples of these toxic air
pollutants include benzene, a known human carcinogen, and xylenes, which depress the central
nervous system, damage the kidneys, and irritate the respiratory system.
In 1997, refineries reported releasing over 58 million pounds of toxic air pollutants.
Overall, according to the Toxic Release Inventory (TRI), oil refineries were the fourth largest
industrial source of toxic air pollutants.

Refineries are the largest industrial source of air
emissions of benzene (emitting over 2.9 million pounds), the second largest of xylenes (4.2
million pounds) and methyl ethyl ketone (4.1 million pounds), and the third largest industrial
source of air emissions of toluene (7 million pounds)

These toxic air pollutants can have both chronic and acute health impacts on a large
number of exposed individuals. For example, in 1995, EPA estimated that 4.5 million
individuals living within 30 miles of oil refineries were exposed to benzene at concentrations that
posed cancer risks that were higher than the Clean Air Act’s acceptable risk threshold. The
maximum risk for individuals exposed to benzene from oil refineries was 180 times higher than
the acceptable risk threshold.

Since DOCTOR Forrester seems to be behind in his continuing medical studies, why don't we help him along:

Hematotoxicity in Workers Exposed to Low Levels of Benzene

Benzene is known to have toxic effects on the blood and bone marrow, but its impact at levels below the U.S. occupational standard of 1 part per million (ppm) remains uncertain. In a study of 250 workers exposed to benzene, white blood cell and platelet counts were significantly lower than in 140 controls, even for exposure below 1 ppm in air. Progenitor cell colony formation significantly declined with increasing benzene exposure and was more sensitive to the effects of benzene than was the number of mature blood cells. Two genetic variants in key metabolizing enzymes, myeloperoxidase and NAD(P)H:quinone oxidoreductase, influenced susceptibility to benzene hematotoxicity. Thus, hematotoxicity from exposure to benzene occurred at air levels of 1 ppm or less and may be particularly evident among genetically susceptible subpopulations.

Let's help DOCTOR Forrester put two and two together, shall we? People living within 30 miles of his proposed refineries will be subject to levels of Benzene and other toxins that have been proven to screw up the cellular makeup of their blood, greatly increasing their chances of succumbing to cancer and other ailments associated with immunodeficiency. And that's just the tip of the iceberg of the health risks associated with the some 28 different toxins that refineries emit into the air, ground and water.

For other (wiser) General Assembly members reading this, please understand that cities and rural communities across the U.S. (and internationally) have been struggling with the adverse effects of refineries in their midst. Numerous lawsuits are pending or have been settled, equating to billions in damages. But the oil companies don't care, because their profits far surpass their legal exposure.

Not here. Please.



'Cause I can't get enough of Senator Forrester.

Do folks remember that his fellow Senate Repoublicans elected him their leader a few years back?

He's not their leader now, of course. Even the Senate GOP caucus dumped him as their spokesperson when they suffered a humiliating defeat after his leadership escapade a couple election cycles ago.

Would that the people of Gaston, Iredell, and Lincoln counties do the same...



The good doctor has ruffled me feathers a mite. I've a good mind to send him a nasty text message while driving 74 mph on the Interstate...