tp-edm-stelmach

Alberta Premier Ed Stelmach made his first remarks on the University of Alberta water study on Wednesday.

Alberta Premier Ed Stelmach said Wednesday his government will compare newly published data from the University of Alberta with research already done by government scientists on the impact of oilsands development on the Athabasca River.

In his first public comments about the results since they were released Monday, Stelmach said he respects study co-author David Schindler and his research and believes scientists should compare methods and statistics to see where the differences lie.  

"We have been studying [and] monitoring the water in the Athabasca River since the oilsands first began. So we have a good baseline study and we can work from there," Stelmach said Wednesday at Government House in Edmonton.

"In this particular case, we will compare the data and come to a conclusion. If it means that we have to do something more, we will."

While he was confident in his government's statistics, Stelmach said, a review should be done in the face of new contradictory information.

"So, I'm saying, don't discount the data from a respected water scientist," he said. "Let's come together and share the information."

Schindler and his colleague Erin Kelly led the study, which was published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences Monday. It links high levels of toxic pollutants like mercury and cadmium in the Athabasca's waters with nearby oilsands mining.

The findings led Schindler to call for increased federal monitoring of the river, adding any study that didn't detect pollutants was "incompetent" because the substances are so easy to measure.

Toxins in river natural: environment minister

Stelmach's remarks contrasted with those made by his environment minister, Rob Renner, the day before.

Renner insisted toxins in the Athabasca River occur naturally and are at safe levels.

"My scientists are telling me that the amount of compounds that can be detected in the Athabasca River at this point in time are not a concern and are of insignificant levels," he said.

Renner said his department will analyze the study's findings. However, he rejected Schindler's assertion that that federal government needs to step up monitoring of the river.

"If there's a need for us to improve the way we do the monitoring, then we don't need to rely on Ottawa to do it for us. We're perfectly capable of doing that ourselves."

The joint oilsands industry-government group which is responsible for monitoring water in the area admits while there are elevated levels of some toxins, they occur naturally in the environment.

That's because the Athabasca and many of its tributaries run through oilsands deposits, said Fred Kuzmic, from the Regional Aquatics Monitoring Program (RAMP).

With files from The Canadian Press