THE BLOG
09/09/2014 08:39 pm ET Updated Nov 09, 2014

Making Healthy People and Healthy Communities Part of Our Energy Future

Public health is the oil industry's Achilles' Heel. The industry and government do not want us to know that people across the nation are getting sick from petrochemical exposure. Especially in areas of oil and gas activities, our air and water are laced with dangerous chemicals from transportation accidents, fracking activities, tar sands mining, and oil spills. As reserves of conventional crude diminish, more and more of these oil activities occur near people's homes.

Chemical illnesses are the hidden cost of industry's rapid expansion across America. The medical community knows with certainty that people get sick when exposed to oil and petrochemicals, yet nothing is being done to protect our health.

ALERT Project from Global Access Media on Vimeo.

That's why we are creating ALERT. We have found that people want information about health issues associated with oil industry activities, but lack the skills or understanding to get started. ALERT will build informed awareness of human health risks of crude oil exposure. We will provide education and training to recognize symptoms of exposure and to test and treat at-risk populations. The project will identify and implement actions to reduce risk and prevent harm. We will also provide training to empower people to have a voice in what happens in their communities.

The ALERT team consists of scientists, health care professionals, and concerned citizens who have decades of experience dealing with the human health costs of our oil dependency. We have lived in or visited areas harmed by the Exxon Valdez oil spill and the BP Deepwater Horizon disaster, tar sands oil spills in Michigan and Arkansas, and fracking activities in Texas and Oklahoma. We have heard similar stories and witnessed similar debilitating illnesses in people harmed by petrochemical exposures in all of these areas.

ALERT delivers what people want in order to protect what we all value -- our families, homes, land, and health. It's an example that can be used in communities around the world.

The ALERT model consists of a hub of trainers with regional "spokes" in locations at risk of exposure. Specifically, ALERT trainers and concerned citizens will develop and conduct participatory research projects to document health issues. Together we will collect data and create maps to help people understand correlations between illness and pollution from oil activities. We will develop a Continuing Medical Education course on environmental health and disease relating to petrochemical exposure. This will help health care providers learn from their peers how to diagnose, test, and treat for chemical illnesses. And we will document results as volunteers undergo testing and treatment.

Properly documenting, diagnosing, and treating chemical illness is a public health necessity, because it's an emerging epidemic and many sick people are not getting proper treatment. Most doctors don't have experience treating ordinary people exposed to industrial petrochemicals. And they are unwilling to risk a diagnosis that could land them in court.

Meanwhile our government -- influenced by oil money -- turns deaf ears to public demands. Instead of working to protect people, our federal and state governments are responding to lobbyists' influence to weaken or undermine laws designed to protect people from these industrial exposures. Science, medical truth, and the health costs of our oil dependency are ignored for political convenience. By stripping legal protections, each of these sweetheart deals becomes a bargain that sacrifices human health, the environment, and what is left of our democracy for the benefit of the oil industry.

After witnessing these violations of basic human rights, we are taking ALERT directly to the people. ALERT's first projects will focus in fracking and tar sands corridors and Gulf Coast communities harmed by the BP disaster of 2010. With your help, we can connect the dots between human health and industrial activities.

Help us make ALERT happen. Our target of $225,000 will allow us to complete initial surveys, trainings, and research. Please make a tax-deductible contribution now at www.crowdrise.com/ALERT. No amount is too small. And please share our campaign to help us get the word out and reach our goal.

Together we can make public health public knowledge. And we can make healthy people and healthy communities part of our energy future. Go to www.ALERTproject.org and subscribe to ALERT News to learn more.

Riki Ott, PhD, directs ALERT and Ultimate Civics, both projects of Earth Island Institute. ALERT implements actions inspired by her latest book, Not One Drop (Chelsea Green, 2008), and her extensive travels across America. Contact: campaign@alertproject.org.