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The Student News Site of Stony Brook University

The Statesman

The Student News Site of Stony Brook University

The Statesman


Environmental experts discuss fossil fuel impact on human health

A panel of scientists and environmental experts said there is much to be done to address fossil fuel use at Thursday night’s forum, “Today’s Fossil Fuels and the Future of our Children’s Health,” held in the Wang Center.

“We are telling a story about America’s addiction to fossil fuels,” Dr. Perry Sheffield, a pediatrician and assistant professor at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, said. “Children are taking the brunt.”

The three-and-a half hour event attracted about 70 people. 

Treating environmental diseases in children cost a whopping $76.6 billion in 2008, according to the National Center for Biotechnology Information. Asthma, rashes and nosebleeds are just some of the effects associated with living near compressor stations, which channel vast amounts of natural gas.  

Distribution and extraction of fossil fuels and humans’ incessant use of them are causing many of these problems, Robert Oswald, a professor of molecular medicine at Cornell University, said.

Oswald criticized the proposed Keystone XL pipeline. The pipeline, which would run from Canada through the United States, has not yet been built, but the pipeline’s possible environmental and economic effects have sparked controversy in Congress within the last year.

“They are trying to get it to out to market,” Oswald said. “One of the ways to do that, they found, was to put it in a pipeline — Keystone XL —  dilute it, run it down to the Gulf Coast and export it when it’s refined or even before it’s refined. What our country gets out of it, according to a university study, is we will probably get 20 additional jobs.”

He said the pipeline would be put in environmentally sensitive areas with a high risk of spills, which could lead to disaster.

While some panelists spoke about the large scale effects of fossil fuels on climate change, others offered personal pieces of an otherwise massive puzzle, telling emotional stories about how their local neighborhoods were affected by oil.

Theresa Dardar, a council member of the Pointe-au-Chien tribe in Louisiana, spoke about how the marshes in her native land flooded as fracking came close to her area. Her brother-in-law waded through the filthy water to install pikes in the ground to measure the rise in level. He later developed bruises that took years to diagnose and heal.

Pramilla Mallick, a community organizer, journalist, anthropologist and mother of four, told her story about the fight to stop the Minisink Compressor Station. She showed a video in which the fumes from the station were invisible to the naked eye, but vicious plumes that cut into the sky were seen once the camera switched to infrared. She later spoke about the illnesses experienced by nearby residents, including her children.

“I’d rather hug them in the dark than say goodbye in a well-lit hospital,” Mallick said.

Dr. Michelle Bamberger, a veterinarian and researcher, said that extensive research on animals and foods needs to be done to discover how grave the situation actually is.

While the situation is dire and much work is yet to be done, not all seems grim.

“In the last quarter, we have made strides to protect human health,” said Sheffield, citing a drastic drop of lead in the air since the ’70s.

Protests, laws, and technologies implemented within the last decade such as electric vehicles and solar panels have also helped make the country cleaner.

Sandra Steingraber, a biologist, author and cancer survivor, spoke about her own experiences protesting against oil companies in her own town with others who shared the same principles.

“Sometimes you don’t win. that’s when you use civil disobedience,” Steingraber said.

“We can’t tell the state what to do,” Samara Swanson, a legislative attorney and counsel to the Environmental Protection Committee of the New York City Council, said. “But you can tell the state what to do.”

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