Allies of all shapes and sizes: The National Nurses United
Posted March 19, 2014
Allies against the proposed Keystone XL tar sands pipeline come from all walks of life, and in all shapes and sizes. In fact, the ally I’m specifically referring to is 180,000 union members strong. It is the largest nurses’ union in the country. I am of course speaking of National Nurses United (NNU), and if you have not heard of them before, you are in luck! This blog post is all about them. In 2009, three major nurse organizations, California Nurses Association/National Nurses Organizing Committee, United American Nurses, and Massachusetts Nurses Association, united to create National Nurses United. The organization is first and foremost a patient advocacy organization that understands the need to advocate for their patients not only at the bedside, but also in the public arena. NNU realizes that it is not enough to treat patients’ immediate health issues, but also to help prevent the causes of these health issues, which is why NNU has taken such a strong stance against the proposed Keystone XL Pipeline.
Nurses from around the country are on the front lines treating people with diagnosed respiratory diseases, asthma and cancers, and they have seen or are concerned about the direct health effects of tars sands development in Canada, refineries burning tar sands, mounds of petroleum coke (a tar sands byproduct), and tar sands oil spills tainting water supplies. These nurses have also seen the effects of climate change through their Registered Nurses Response Network volunteer work in New York and New Jersey during Hurricane Sandy, in Louisiana during Hurricane Katrina and in the Philippians during the recent typhoon. To them, it makes no sense to worsen these health problems by building the proposed Keystone XL pipeline.
Many of the nurses don’t even have to go as far as other states and countries to see health problems due to oil development. Some of them have experienced it in their own communities. At a press briefing on health effects of tar sands held by Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA) last week, nurses were able to voice their concerns. One nurse who moved from the north to work in Houston TX never had asthma until she relocated. Houston and its close neighbor, Port Arthur already have oil refineries and Port Arthur boasts the worst air quality in the country. Another nurse from Kansas City would be directly affected by the proposed Keystone XL pipeline as she lives along its route. She and her daughter already have asthma and she is concerned matters would get worse with a leak or rupture of a pipeline in her town. At least a dozen nurses representing NNU came out to the press briefing, all calling for an immediate and comprehensive assessment of health impacts of the proposed Keystone XL Pipeline. NNU also announced its intention to send a petition to Senator Kerry calling for this assessment.
The press briefing is not the only action NNU has taken against the proposed Keystone XL pipeline. In June 2013, NNU hosted a March and Rally across the Golden Gate bridge opposing the pipeline. The March was attended by other environmental organizations such as 350.org, Friends of the Earth, and Greenpeace to name a few, as well as First Nation Leaders and nurses representing 25 states, Europe, Asia, Latin America and Africa. NNU has supported others efforts as well such as The Great March for Climate Action, and NRDC and Sierra Club’s senate staff briefing two weeks ago. You can also check out their blog that addresses multiple health concerns, with climate change and the proposed Keystone XL pipeline as reoccurring themes.
At the briefing I had the pleasure of speaking with Judith Lerma, a psych nurse from San Antonio TX. When I asked her why she opposed the proposed pipeline, she had a very simple yet poignant answer: “I live on this planet and that’s why I oppose the KXL pipeline.”
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