Study confirms oilsands tailings ponds emit pollutants into the air

New federal government research has confirmed that oilsands tailings ponds are releasing toxic and potentially cancer-causing chemicals into the air.

EDMONTON — New federal government research has confirmed that oilsands tailings ponds are releasing toxic and potentially cancer-causing chemicals into the air.

And Environment Canada scientist Elisabeth Galarneau said her study – the first using actual, in-the-field measurements – agrees with earlier research that suggests the amount of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons emitted by the industry has been dramatically underestimated.

“We found that there actually does appear to be a net flow of these compounds going from water to air,” she said. “It’s just a bit under five times higher from the ponds than what’s been reported.”

Galarneau’s findings echo those from an earlier study this summer. That paper, however, depended on mathematical modelling.

The Environment Canada study, recently published in the journal Atmospheric Environment, used actual data collected from air sampling and filtering devices placed in the oilsands region under the joint federal-provincial monitoring program.

Using standard and well-established testing methods, Galarneau’s preliminary results suggest 1,069 kilograms a year of PAH compounds are being released from the 176 square kilometres of tailings ponds across the region.

Official reports to Canada’s National Pollutant Release Industry say that only 231 kilograms of those chemicals are released annually.

Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons are commonly found in fossil fuels and can be released by incomplete burning of any material that contains carbon. Although their toxicity varies widely, 32 of them are considered priority pollutants by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

They are known to cause cancer. High prenatal exposure to these compounds is linked to lower IQ and childhood asthma.

However, Galarneau said her study can’t answer questions on the possible consequences of the toxic emissions because she didn’t study what happens to them after they enter the atmosphere.

“We have to consider the ambient measurements and the deposition. The computer modelling simulations that’s needed to put all the pieces together hasn’t been done yet.”

Health concerns have been major issues for aboriginal groups living in and around the oilsands area. Some have long complained of what they claim are elevated rates of cancer in their communities, although epidemiological studies have failed to back those claims up.

While Galarneau is confident that her main conclusions are correct, she said more work needs to be done with air sampling from other parts of the oilsands region. As well, more sophisticated testing methods have to be brought in, Galarneau said.

“We would certainly like more information from more facilities’ ponds,” she said, adding that such work is already underway.

An Environment Canada spokeswoman said in an email sent before Galarneau was interviewed that the research is part of the government’s commitment to pay close attention to the industry’s impacts.

“The governments of Canada and Alberta remain committed to ensuring that data from the monitoring activities and the scientific methods used are transparent, supported by necessary quality assurance and made publicly available to allow independent scientific assessments and evaluations,” she said.

Just Posted

Ella Stoner, five, is ready to cut off her hair and donate it to A Child’s Voice Foundation. (Photo by Lauren Stoner Photography)
Central Alberta girl to donate her ‘princess hair’ to A Child’s Voice Foundation

A five-year-old girl from Rimbey has never had a haircut before. Now,… Continue reading

Asymptomatic testing will now be available for "priority groups" who are most likely to spread the COVID-19 virus to vulnerable or at-risk populations. File photo by THE CANADIAN PRESS
Alberta adds 1,195 new COVID-19 cases Saturday

Red Deer has dropped to 760 active cases

Lacombe-Ponoka MLA Ron Orr
Central Alberta MLAs comment on UCP members kicked out of caucus

A pair of central Alberta MLAs have commented on the two United… Continue reading

Contributed photo
Johanna Hannaford: Central Alberta designer offers inclusive clothing

By Stephanie Rhodes Local designer Johanna Hannaford’s inclusive clothing creations are smashing… Continue reading

Red life-ring with splash
Started from the bottom: How a family business started and grew in central Alberta

By Carina Moran We started our business in the basement of our… Continue reading

Vancouver Canucks' Zack MacEwen (71), Travis Boyd (72) and Jimmy Vesey (24) celebrate a goal against the Edmonton Oilers during third period NHL action in Edmonton on Saturday, May 15, 2021.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson
Big third period lifts Vancouver Canucks to 4-1 victory over Edmonton Oilers

Canucks 4 Oilers 1 EDMONTON — Matthew Highmore scored twice in the… Continue reading

A vial of the Medicago vaccine sits on a surface. CARe Clinic, located in Red Deer, has been selected to participate in the third phase of vaccine study. (Photo courtesy www.medicago.com)
Canada’s vaccine rollout operation won’t miss a beat with new military leader: expert

DARTMOUTH — The sudden departure of the senior military officer in charge… Continue reading

Quebec Premier Francois Legault speaks during a news conference on the COVID-19 pandemic, Tuesday, September 29, 2020 at the legislature in Quebec City. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jacques Boissinot
Quebec premier argues province has power to amend constitution in letter to Trudeau

MONTREAL — Quebec Premier François Legault has written a letter to Prime… Continue reading

A demonstrator stands in front of riot police officers during a banned protest in support of Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, in Paris, Saturday, May, 15, 2021. Marches in support of Palestinians in the Gaza Strip were being held Saturday in a dozen French cities, but the focus was on Paris where riot police countered organizers who said they would defy a ban on the protest, ordered on the grounds that it risked turning violent. (AP Photo/Rafael Yaghobzadeh)
Police fire tear gas on banned Palestinian march in Paris

PARIS (AP) — French riot police fired tear gas and used water… Continue reading

Photo by The Associated Press
NYC Pride parade bans police; Gay officers ‘disheartened’

NEW YORK (AP) — Organizers of New York City’s Pride events said… Continue reading

Welcoming cowboy boots at the historic and colourful Last Chance Saloon in the ghost town of Wayne near Drumheller, Alta., on Thursday, Sept. 19, 2019. The bar and hotel are up for sale. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
‘It was a going concern’: Remaining bar and hotel in Alberta coal ghost town for sale

WAYNE, Alta. — Built during the First World War, it survived the… Continue reading

A letter from a bottle that washed up in New Brunswick in 2017 is shown in an undated handout photo. A team of researchers from Université du Québec à Rimouski are trying to solve the mystery of whether a letter in a bottle that washed up in New Brunswick in 2017 was indeed from a young victim of Titanic shipwreck or simply a hoax. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO, N. Beaudry, UQAR *MANDATORY CREDIT*
Real or hoax? Quebec scholars probe mystery letter allegedly from Titanic passenger

MONTREAL — Researchers from Université du Québec à Rimouski are trying to… Continue reading

Minister of Transport Marc Garneau takes part in a press conference on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Tuesday, Nov. 26, 2019. Advocates, experts and opposition MPs say correspondence showing close communication between the federal Transport Department and the Canadian Transportation Agency regarding passenger refunds throws into question the independence of the CTA, an arm’s-length body. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Emails reveal close communication between government, transport regulator on refunds

OTTAWA — Advocates, experts and opposition MPs say correspondence showing close communication… Continue reading

Most Read