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Oil drilling threatens children's health and the climate

By Dr. Jeff Mann and Dr. Amanda Millstein

Just say no to backyard oil drilling in Brentwood. Your doctor recommends it, for your health.

A proposed oil drilling project overlooks serious health consequences for local citizens, especially for the children in Brentwood and Contra Costa County. The proposed oil well would be located within 1,000 feet of homes in the Brentwood Hills Subdivision, a halfmile from Heritage High School and Antioch Kaiser hospital, and within 2 miles of a dozen schools and Stanford Children's Health Center.

As physicians, we have many health and safety concerns about drilling for oil and gas near a population center of over 200,000 people. The health hazards to people living, working and going to school in proximity to oil drilling are well-documented.

Oil and gas operations release health-damaging pollutants into the air. A 2019 study found that these hazardous air pollutants are released during drilling of a well and throughout oil and gas production. Asthma rates, rates of preterm birth and cancer rates are all elevated in people who live near fossil fuel extraction sites.

A 2018 study found that for people living within 500 feet of oil and gas drilling, the risk of developing cancer is eight times higher than the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency threshold for acceptable risk.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, any increase in air pollution is especially hazardous to health. A recent study from Harvard found that an increase in air pollution exposure leads to an increased likelihood of death from COVID-19.

Ultimately, the reason to drill for oil and gas is to burn it, which results in greenhouse gas emissions and climate change. Health care providers around the world recognize the direct link between the burning of fossil fuels, climate change and the adverse effect of warming on health, especially the health of our kids.

The climate crisis is a global health emergency. There is only one way to mitigate the worst effects of climate change. We must stop burning fossil fuels. Clearly, new oil and gas drilling is exactly a step in the opposite direction.

Contra Costa County residents have already suffered decades of health impacts from oil refinery air and water pollution. We are home to the second-largest refinery center on the West Coast, and the scars from the resultant pollution are borne most by our front-line communities.

The regulation of much of this pollution is at a federal level and outside local jurisdiction. However, this is not so with the approval of the Brentwood oil well. Contra Costa County can stop this proposal. County officials should insist on a full environmental impact report and then turn down this proposal.

We all want a healthy county and a healthy future for our children. Oil and gas drilling is dangerous to the kids and families who live and go to school in Brentwood. It's also dangerous for all of us because it leads to climate change.

However, we can create healthier people and a healthier planet. In fact, we must, for the sake of our children. And we can start right here by stopping the proposed oil well in Brentwood and banning fracking and drilling in our county and state. Dr. Jeff Mann of Lafayette is an orthopedic surgeon and a cofounder of 350 Contra Costa, a grassroots climate crisis group. Dr. Amanda Millstein of El Cerrito is a primary care pediatrician and a co-founder of Climate Health Now.

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