SETAC Presentations on the Canadian Oil Sands

  1. The 33rd Annual Meeting of the North American Chapter of the Society of Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry (SETAC) is currently underway in Long Beach, California. I wasn’t able to attend SETAC this year, but fortunately for me Naomi Lubick has been tweeting some of the highlights from the conference,
  2. nlubick
    Infrastructure for sewage and wastewater treatment is aging, and could end up making things worse if ignored: leaking poop! #sfei #setac2012

    Mon, Nov 12 2012 10:42:38
  3. nlubick
    Cesium 137 radiation: twice as much from food in Chiba prefecture vs Fukushima city. Air delivered more Cs-137 in the city. #setac2012

    Tue, Nov 13 2012 15:16:20
  4. nlubick
    Hideshige Takada, plastic pellets expert: flame retardants go from plastics into shearwater seabirds in the middle of the Pacific #setac2012

    Wed, Nov 14 2012 09:05:41
  5. But it has been one session that she tweeted about, which revolves around The Canadian Oil Sands, that has been getting quite a bit of attention.
  6. nlubick
    #EnvironmentCanada confirms levels from David Schindler’s lab’s PNAS ppr: #TarSands pollutants in snow near #oilsands operations. #setac2012

    Wed, Nov 14 2012 10:49:54
  7. The paper that she is referring was authored by Erin Kelly (can be found here), examined the concentrations of priority pollutants (Sb, As, Be, Cd, Cr, Cu, Pb, Hg, Ni, Se, Ag, Tl, and Zn) in snowpack and water from the areas surrounding the Alberta oil sands development. One of the main findings of their paper was that within 50 km of upgrading facilities, 11 400 metric tons of airborne particulates were deposited during 4 months of snowfall. The majority of those particulates consisted of oil sands bitumen, some priority pollutants and polyaromatic compounds, and the particulate elements decline in concentration more rapidly with distance from development, than do those dissolved elements. The study by Kelly et al. got lots of attention and resulted in a press conference where David Schindler waved around a fish found in the Athabasca River which was deformed and had tumors. He attributed the deformities in the fish to the oil sands operations in Fort McMurray, and warned of potential health effects for members of the surrounding communities. Largely as a result of the work of Kelly and Schindler, Environment Canada began an intensive monitoring campaign in the area. The results of their studies are now being shared.
  8. CBCQuirks
    Federal scientists uncover evidence that oilsands contaminants travel further than expected scientists uncover evidence that oilsands/7542747/story.html

    Wed, Nov 14 2012 07:19:11
  9. This is referring to the work of Jane Kirk et al. of Environment Canada, whose findings confirmed those of Kelly et al., but also found that the loadings extended further than previously reported. Kirk et al. collected snowpack samples from ~90 sites located 0-200 km from the major bitumen upgrading facilities to determine the atmospheric contaminant loadings into the Athabasca River. They found all 13 of the priority pollutants that Kelly et al. looked at, and noted that the loadings were 1.5 to 13 times greater at sites within 50 km of the upgraders, compared to those sites that were further than 50 km away. They also noted that particulate bound methyl mercury (MeHg) increased exponentially with proximity to the upgraders. The presence and concentration of MeHg is troubling as it is a very bioaccumulative substance that is also quite toxic.
  10. ecojustice_ca
    Snow near oilsands contains toxic substances, CBC reports. #oilsands Please ReTweet

    Wed, Nov 14 2012 06:21:12
  11. A related study, presented by Derek Muir (Environment Canada), found that concentrations of total PAHs in lake sediments surrounding the oil sands development were 2.5 to 23 times greater than there were pre-1960 background levels. Muir commented that the footprint of deposition is potentially larger than anticipated, and that the rising levels of PAHs in sediments seems to parallel the development of the oil sands industry.
  12. EcoRational
    Hey #Alberta: Lakes & food chain full of PAHs & mercury. Is this to be your legacy? #SETAC #abpoli #tarsands #oilsands

    Wed, Nov 14 2012 09:25:48
  13. BCLaraby
    Defunding in 3,2,1: Fed scientists uncover evidence that oilsands contaminants travel further than expected scientists uncover evidence that oilsands contaminants/7542920/story.html #cdnpoli

    Wed, Nov 14 2012 11:32:02
  14. But it is worth noting that the concentrations of the PAHs in the lake sediments (with the exception of the lake closest to the oil sands development) are below guideline limits, in fact, they are similar to concentrations observed around urban areas. These concentrations are are not yet great enough that they are considered toxic to aquatic life.
  15. nlubick
    Still relatively low concentrations of PAHs from oil operations. #TarSands #EnvironmentCanada #setac2012

    Wed, Nov 14 2012 11:52:55
  16. Interestingly, results presented by Joanne Parrott (Environment Canada), found that melted snow (amended with essential salts to mimic the ionic composition of the Athabasca River) from near the oil sands mining and refining areas were toxic to larval fathead minnows from 25 to 100% strength.
  17. nlubick
    “The snow was toxic” to fathead minnow larvae near stacks but clean far away. What happens to melt? #EnvironmentCanada #TarSands #setac2012

    Wed, Nov 14 2012 10:53:51
  18. However, once the snow melt water was diluted with water from the Athabasca River it was no longer toxic to the minnows.
  19. nlubick
    Dilution is the solution? Athabasca River water is “NOT TOXIC” (#EnvironmentCanada emphasis). Meltwater is ok for fish #setac2012 #TarSands

    Wed, Nov 14 2012 10:56:22
  20. These results are being presented at a conference and I am largely gathering information about the work being presented through the SETAC Abstract book and the tweets and updates from colleagues. This is by no means the ideal way of getting information, but it does represent how most people would be exposed to science news, and while it is cool that it is happening, it is still lacking. Reading a full peer reviewed paper gives much more information and a more complete story to help interpret the results. Unfortunately, that format is largely unavailable to the public (both as it is written and physically as a paper), and as such we have to rely on newspaper articles and press releases which are often incomplete and can be misleading. Hopefully once the results presented at the SETAC conference get published, there will be a renewed discussion of their significance and they will help inform the future development of the Canadian oil sands.

One thought on “SETAC Presentations on the Canadian Oil Sands

  1. Pingback: War in 140 Characters | On a Quasi-Related Note

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