Study Finds Oil Sands Are Polluting Canadian River System

Tar sands mining is polluting Canada’s Athabasca River system, according to research findings published this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).

13 inorganic elements known to be toxic at low concentrations -including mercury, arsenic, lead and cadmium – are being discharged to air and water by tar sands mining and processing, according to coauthors Erin Kelly and David Schindler of the Department of Biological Sciences at the University of Alberta.

The study was designed to test claims by industry and Alberta politicians that all contaminants in the river are from natural sources.

"Rather than pollutants increasing continuously downstream in the river due to natural sources, as government has claimed, concentrations of the majority of toxins were always highest near sites of industrial activity," Schindler says.

He notes however that concentrations of many contaminants remained above background levels right up to the Athabasca Delta. Elevated concentrations were in Lake Athabasca, near Fort Chipewyan.

"The releases are in clear violation of section 36, subsection 3 of the Fisheries Act, which prohibits discharge of toxins in any quantity into fish-bearing waters."

Schindler says much of the debate over the impact of tar sands has been based on a combination of conjecture and propaganda, which has not been peer reviewed or published in recognized scientific publications.

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