by David DeFranza on 12. 8.09
Science & Technology
It's not a huge surprise that the oil sands—which have been described as the "most destructive project on earth
" and were likened to Mordor
by a United Nations water advisor—are leaking toxins into nearby streams.
Still, the Regional Aquatic Monitoring Program (RAMP), the body responsible for monitoring water pollution from the project, has not found what it considers abnormal levels of pollutants downstream from mining operations.
Now, in a report that contradicts the findings
from both the Canadian government and mining industry, a group of researchers claim to have found a definitive link between tar sands operations and higher levels of pollutants in nearby streams.
Establishing a Natural Background
Since the beginning, pollutants have been present in the streams in this part of Alberta. The claim, which has been buoyed by RAMP research, has been that their presence is the result of a natural source: The oil in the soil that the tar sands operation hopes to extract.
David Schindler, a researcher at the University of Alberta, Edmonton, and the lead author of the report, explained that "industry's response has always been 'of course there are carcinogens in the water, there's a natural source'...but it defied logic to think that all that was going in was natural."
Toxic Enough to Harm Fish
Schindler's research, to be published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, found a 10 to 50 fold increase in the levels of polycyclic aromatic compounds (PACs) downstream from mining operations. Samples taken from locations downstream on the Athabasca River were compared to samples taken from upstream sites.
This increase, reaching concentrations as high as 0.7 micrograms per liter, is well above the 0.4 micrograms per liter threshold that can be toxic to fish.
The Truth is in the Snow
Researchers also took snowpack samples near an upgrading facility. When the snow was melted, an oily residue was left floating on the top
. Its proof, they argue, that mining operations are polluting the surrounding air and water with chemicals known to be carcinogens, mutagens, and teratogens.