Yesterday, a new study was published confirming the link between toxins from the tar sands and damages to human health.

For years, First Nations in northern Alberta and their physicians have been sounding alarm bells about the unusual number of cancer cases and illnesses in their communities, and their concerns that toxic chemicals from the tar sands are accumulating in their traditional food sources.

With intense international scrutiny focussed on the tar sands and government failures when it comes to environmental regulations – this study is a critical addition to the mounting evidence that the expansion of the tar sands is happening too fast and the environment and human health are the casualties of this expansion.

The study, done in collaboration between the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation, the Mikisew Cree First Nations, and the University of Manitoba, measured the accumulation of heavy metals and toxics in the traditional foods of First Nations living in the tar sands region.

The study tested traditional food sources, such as fish and ducks, for toxics and carcinogens including arsenic, cadmium, and selenium. The study found that some of the chemicals tested were present in concentrations that could threaten human health.

The study concludes that “cancer occurrence increased significantly with participant employment in the Oil Sands and with the increased consumption of traditional foods and locally caught fish.”

This  is just the latest in a series of studies this year that have identified toxics from the tar sands, including in the air and water, many kilometres away from actual tar sands operations are damaging human health in the region.

What it is going to take for governments to take action and rein in expansion of the tar sands? In addition to devastating impacts on wildlife and human health, the tar sands are the country’s largest and fastest growing source of global warming pollution.

While governments and industry continue to spend tens of millions of dollars on glossy public relations in efforts to paint the tar sands safe and green, one doesn’t have to look further than the Mikisew Cree, or the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nations for a reality check. Imagine if many members of your family and many friends, and even yourself, were being diagnosed with rare and unexpected cancers. Imagine if almost everyone knew why it was happening, and yet those in charge were failing to do what it takes to control the problem.

It is a tragedy that no community in this country should be forced to deal with. Tar sands expansion is out of control. Regulations that exist are either too weak or simply not enforced, and in some cases critical regulations (like the missing greenhouse gas regulations) do not even exist.

Join us in taking action to demand an end to the irresponsible expansion of the tar sands and a transition towards modern, clean, low carbon energy. Canada can and must do better.