Bitumen vs cigarettes: Canada’s double standard on carcinogens

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Carcinogens banned in restaurants and bars are encouraged in tar sands

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This letter to the editor appeared in the Montreal Gazette on October 11.

Re: “Quebec’s pipeline paradox” (Your Views, Oct. 10).

Michel Trahan sees a paradox in the fact that in Quebec we accept oil money that comes from Alberta, but despise the fact that oil is coming from Alberta.

What actually we fear (not despise) is the devastation that would be caused by a spill of diluted bitumen, not oil, in this province, particularly into waterways or in the region of aquifers.

Bitumen is listed as a probable carcinogen. It contains chemicals known as polyaromatic hydrocarbons, probably over 100 of them. One of them, benzyl a pyrene (B.a. P) is a known human carcinogen that has been detected in high concentrations in the oilsands operations area.

I could go on, because I was an organic chemist involved in the coal-tar dye industry, which used polyaromatic hydrocarbons as intermediates until 1970, when their toxicity was discovered, but I will conclude with my paradoxes.

Cigarette smoke contains many of the same polyaromatic hydrocarbons as bitumen, including benzyl a pyrene. There are very strict laws in Canada restricting the spreading of second-hand smoke, but there doesn’t appear to be any restriction on the spreading of those same polyaromatic hydrocarbons in the oilsands area or on the transport of them.

Second, in the European Union and the United States there are policies and laws to reduce the amount of polyaromatic hydrocarbons in the atmosphere; in Canada we have policies that will increase them.

Ian Robinson

Well said.


More from my notebook ….