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Will Oregon Follow Doctors’ Orders?


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20 July 2012, 12:21 PM
Physicians’ group recommends health assessment of proposed coal export projects
Coos Bay, Oregon, where a coal export facility has been proposed. (Photo: Brian Burger)

Listening to your doctor’s orders is usually a good idea. If your doctor prescribes you a medication and tells you to attend physical therapy, then you take the medication and you go to physical therapy. Now, imagine if 130 doctors all told you to do the same thing. You’d probably follow their orders, right?

Well, this week in Oregon, 130 doctors from Physicians for Social Responsibility called on the state to conduct a comprehensive Health Impact Assessment (HIA) of proposed coal export projects.

Currently, three coal export projects have been proposed in Oregon including a facility at Coos Bay, the Kinder Morgan terminal at Port of St. Helens, and the Ambre Energy project with facilities at the Port of Morrow and the Port of St. Helens. Physicians for Social Responsibility joins Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber and a group of physicians in Washington, Whatcom Docs, in calling for a HIA to assess the health risks associated with coal export.

Now we’ll wait and see if Oregon will heed the advice of its doctors.

Physicians for Social Responsibility is concerned about the health impacts to communities if numerous uncovered coal trains were to course through the state on a daily basis on their way to export terminals. As Oregon Public Broadcasting reports, Dr. Andy Harris of Oregon Health and Science University says that the proposed coal export terminals would increase the risk of respiratory diseases, stroke, heart attacks, and cancer in the state. The physician group’s HIA request results from a review of scientific studies pointing to the health risks related to airborne coal dust and diesel emissions from trains.

A HIA would offer a more in-depth look at the health impacts of the proposed export projects as compared to a traditional Environmental Impact Statement (EIS). The assessment would likely take between six and 12 months to complete, and the process would include public meetings.

Earthjustice’s legal team is also fighting against reckless coal export projects to secure the health of Oregon’s communities and its environment. The Port of Coos Bay is planning a massive dredging project, at an eventual total cost of $100 million, to create a slip that can be used for a variety of applications, including coal export. We filed a challenge to the dredging permit earlier this year arguing that the Port failed to examine the potential environmental impacts of using the facility as a coal terminal. The case is now before an Oregon Administrative Law Judge.

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