Read this story from Andrew Nikiforuk in TheTyee.ca on a groundbreaking new federally funded report into water pollution from the Alberta Tar Sands. (January 7, 2013)
A new federally funded study on the tar sands has confirmed what a discredited industry-funded monitoring program could not: that pollution has now contaminated lakes as far as 90 km away from the massive mining project.
Due to "the absence of well executed environmental monitoring in the Athabasca oil sands" Environment Canada researchers cored the sediment of six lakes ranging from 35 km to 90 km away from the project.
In the sediment of boreal lakes researchers discovered that airborne pollutants from the tar sands production were now two to 23 times greater than levels deposited in the 1960s.
The study conclusively shows that bitumen pollution "is not natural, is increasing over time and the footprint of the industry is much bigger than anyone thought," says John Smol, one of Canada's leading freshwater ecologists, a Queen's University professor and a contributor to the study.
Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons
Federal researchers studied the transport of just one of many toxic tar sands contaminants: polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), a diverse but deadly group of chemicals formed by the incomplete burning of fossil fuels.
"Because of the striking increase in PAHs, elevated primary production, and zooplankton changes, these oil sands lake ecosystems have entered new ecological states completely distinct from those of previous centuries," concluded the study.
PAHs (and heavy metals) are well known components of Athabasca bitumen and some such as benzo(a)pyrene, can cause cancers in humans while others are suspected of being both animal and human carcinogens. PAHS can also impede and affect fetal growth during the first trimester.
The study, published by the prestigious Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, also confirms the conclusions of two independently-funded papers by water ecologist David Schindler and Erin Kelly. These now highly cited studies roused the ire of industry and embarrassed the Alberta government by proving widespread water contamination near the mining project.