Toxic substance found in snow near oilsands

A CBC exclusive about an Environment Canada study reveals the presence of contaminants found in snow near oilsands mines.

Environment Canada study finds contaminants dangerous to fish

Oilsands contaminants

CBC News: Calgary at 6:00

8 years ago
A CBC exclusive about an Environment Canada study reveals the presence of contaminants found in snow near oilsands mine. 2:08

An Environment Canada study has revealed the presence of contaminants in snow near oilsands mines.

CBC News has learned the details ahead of a presentation by Environment Canada researchers at the Society of Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry in Long Beach, Calif., later this week.

The researchers found snow near the oilsands contained toxic substances dangerous to fish eggs. The study doesn't say anything about the potential effect on mammals that eat snow.

University of Alberta biologist David Schindler said the research doesn't surprise him.

"Those Environment Canada studies, I think, confirm my worst suspicions," he said. 

In 2009, Schindler also found contaminants in snow near the oilsands. Later, his team discovered a fish with a tumor, believed to be linked to oilsands contamination.

The province takes these findings seriously, said Alberta Environment spokesperson Erin Carrier.

"We recognize that there is naturally occurring bitumen in the area. But we also recognize that with the development of oilsands in the area, that we do have to monitor," said Carrier.

The province says it worked with Ottawa to launch a joint monitoring program in northern Alberta.

These findings won't be the only research presented in California this week at the meeting of international scientists. Another connected study found that hydrocarbons in lakes near the oilsands have risen by two to 23 times since the beginning of exploration 60 years ago.

Environmentalists say they fear the work done by Environment Canada’s scientists won't get much attention.

"Scientists have been told to refer questions to media liaisons and not to actually speak about their studies themselves," said Chelsea Flook, executive director for the Prairies at the Sierra Club.

At a similar conference held in Boston last year, Environment Canada scientists were given a list of precise answers for reporters’ questions.

The Conservative government insists scientists are bureaucrats and can't say things that might be seen as offering an opinion on government policies.

The document below is from the Society of Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry meeting. The researchers' abstract can be found on pages 103 and 104.