Alberta news briefs – May 23

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Oilsands wastewater leak kept secret for months: Opposition

EDMONTON — The Alberta government is downplaying a leak of nearly one-million litres of tainted water into the Athabasca River from a wastewater pond at a Suncor oilsands site near Fort McMurray.

The Liberal Opposition says the leak last year was the same volume as an Olympic swimming pool and involved water contaminated with oil and grease that left a sheen on the river.

Liberal environment shadow minister David Swann says downstream communities were not notified for up to eight months after the September leak.

“There needs to be a serious attempt to let everyone know what’s happened, and what action has been taken,” Swann said.

Questioned by Swann in the legislature, Environment Minister Rob Renner said the leak did not come from an oilsands tailings pond like the one that killed 500 ducks last month.

Premier Ed Stelmach told reporters that he would look in to the leak and how and when residents were notified.

“I don’t know when they were told, and that’s one of the things I want to find out for sure, were the people notified,” he said.

The leak happened when the pond’s water level fell low enough that grease or oil that had been sitting on the surface was pulled in, said Bellows.

Building, fire codes boosted

EDMONTON — Alberta is changing the way some homes are built to try to prevent another fire like the one that destroyed 88 homes in Edmonton last summer.

The province is announcing amendments to its building and fire codes today for houses built close together.

The Canadian Press has learned that slower-burning gypsum wallboard will now be required under vinyl siding in high-density neighbourhoods where homes are built 1.2 metres or less from the property line.

Edmonton fire Chief Randy Wolsey said a few months ago that manufactured wood products used under vinyl siding were burning much too quickly, putting public safety at risk.

Cancer board to revisit town

FORT CHIPEWYAN — The Alberta Cancer Board is taking a second tally of cancers in a small northern Alberta community downstream from the province’s booming oilsands region.

Many residents of Fort Chipewyan are convinced their proximity to oilsands development and major forestry mills in Fort McMurray have led to contamination of the water and wildlife in the region and a higher rate of cancer and other illnesses.

A study by epidemiologists at the Alberta Cancer Board released in 2006 found overall rates of cancer in the community were comparable to the provincial average.

Aboriginal treaty signed

EDMONTON — The Alberta government has signed an agreement to work more closely with aboriginal groups.

Premier Ed Stelmach met with the grand chiefs of Treaty 6, 7 and 8 for a ceremony.

Stelmach says strong, vibrant aboriginal communities are important to the province’s future.

Under the agreement, the chiefs will meet with the premier once a year to discuss concerns and will meet with other ministers regarding land and resource development twice a year. Treaty 7 Chief Charles Weaselhead says the chiefs look forward to working more closely with the province.