Government-funded Study Concludes Toxic Hydrocarbons From Oilsands Pollutes Lakes
We all knew it. Now we have the science to prove it.
A study, published this past Monday by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, concluded that the level of toxic hydrocarbons in lakes surrounding the Alberta Tar Sands were 2-and-a-half to 23 times higher than they were before the mining operations began. The study was done by some of Canada’s top scientists and funded by the federal government.
Click here to see as a clip from CBC’s The National about the study.
The researchers used core samples of mud from the lakes in order to compare past levels of contaminants (dating back to 1880) to what is found today. The chemical makeup and the timing of the appearance of pollutants points to the Tar Sands.
According to study co-author John Smol from Queens University in Kingston, Ontario,
This shows very conclusively that at least in the lakes we looked at, we cannot see any way we can attribute this to natural causes. (That debate’s) completely over. If there was still a coffin to be nailed, I think this is kind of putting in a lot of nails in the coffin.
The pollutants studied were polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), a group of dangerous chemicals, some of which are known to cause cancer. Even in a lake 90 km from the mining sites, levels of PAHs were 3.5 times higher than normal. Although the levels of toxins are still relatively low when compared to what is found at the site of mining, more than half of the chemicals studied are at high enough concentrations to have ecological effects.
And, unfortunately, oil sands production is set to double by 2025. As a result, we can expect PAH levels to greatly increase in the near future. According to toxicologist Jules Blais of the University of Ottawa (I had him as a professor for an ecotoxicology course!),
The recent changes under the (federal) omnibus bill to facilitate these developments are not going help. We’ve made it a lot easier for development to take place.
And keep in mind that only PAHs were studied. We have yet to know the Tar Sands impacts on other dangerous contaminants such as heavy metals, soot and mercury.