300 doctors call for denial of oil terminal permits

Press Release from Physicians For Social Responsibility

Health Professionals Call for Denial of Oil-By-Rail Terminal Permits in Oregon and Washington

By Regna Merritt, May 11, 2015
For Immediate Release


  • Laura Skelton, Executive Director WA Physicians for Social Responsibility, Laura@wpsr.org o: 206.547.2630
  • Regna Merritt, Campaign Director, OR Physicians for Social Responsibility, Regna@oregonpsr.org c: 971.235.7643
  • Mark Glyde, Resource Media, Mark@resource-media.org c: 206.227.4346
  • Bruce Amundson, MD, President, WA Physicians for Social Responsibility, jobrucebaa@frontier.com h: 206.542.5690

Seattle, WA – Nearly 300 doctors, nurses and other health professionals today called on Washington Governor Jay Inslee and Oregon Governor Kate Brown to deny permits for proposed new and expanded oil-by-rail facilities. The position statement based on peer-reviewed medical literature examines a broad range of public health and safety risks including air and water pollution, oil spills and clean-up, delayed emergency response, and storage tank fires and explosions. The statement to the Governors has been signed by 289 health professionals so far.

“There is simply no way that the health and safety of residents of these communities can be assured, given the number of dangerous oil trains heading our way and the scale of these massive storage and shipping facilities so close to residential areas,” said Bruce Amundson, a family physician and President of Washington Physicians for Social Responsibility (PSR).

If all the proposed new and expanded oil terminals were built, the Northwest could see an increase in oil train traffic coming into the region from current levels of about 19 per week to more than 130 trains per week. Up to 1.5 miles long each, oil trains can block street crossings for 10 minutes or more.

“In trauma care, outcomes drastically worsen for seriously injured patients who need an emergency operation and don’t receive treatment within the ‘golden hour,’ said Pat O’Herron, MD, who practices acute care surgery in Salem, Oregon. “Ten minutes can cost lives or save lives.”

Oil trains are also a significant source of air pollution. Diesel pollution is linked to increased cancer rates particularly in the lung and breast, heart attack and stroke, and contributes 78% of the risk for cancer in airborne toxics in the Puget Sound area. In children, diesel pollution is linked to higher rates of neurodevelopmental disorders, impaired lung development, and increased frequency and severity of asthma.

“The expected surge in oil train traffic will add to already high levels of airborne toxin exposure experienced by many communities along rail lines,” said Mark Vossler, a cardiologist and Chairman of the Department of Medicine at Evergreen Hospital in Kirkland, WA.

The position statement also looks in-depth at the health impacts of water contamination from oil spills. Crude oil is a complex mixture of thousands of chemical compounds, many of them harmful to human health. Often overlooked is the toxicity of oil dispersants used to clean up spills.

“We have a history of oil spills in our Northwest waters and every day brings the risk of another one,” said Mary Margaret Thomas, a registered nurse who assisted with the clean-up of the BP Deepwater Horizon spill. “I saw first-hand the grave effects of oil dispersants including nausea and vomiting, seizures and memory loss, undiagnosed skin rashes and lesions, and hormonal changes.”

Many ingredients in oil dispersant products listed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency are known or suspected toxins which can affect every organ system of the human body.

Findings of the 2014 Marine and Rail Oil Transportation Study from the WA State Dept. of Ecology reflect an overall lack of adequate training, resources, design and regulatory oversight to properly respond to an oil spill given current terminal proposals.