Health risks likely lowballed: study

A new study suggests the environmental health risks of oilsands operations in Alberta’s Athabasca region have probably been underestimated.

EDMONTON — A new study suggests the environmental health risks of oilsands operations in Alberta’s Athabasca region have probably been underestimated.

Researchers say emissions of potentially hazardous air pollution that were used in environmental reviews done before approving some projects did not include evaporation from tailings ponds or other sources, such as dust from mining sites.

The study, by the University of Toronto’s environmental chemistry research group, looked at reported levels of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH) — chemicals which can be released into the air, water and soil when bitumen-rich oilsands are mined and processed.

“Our study shows that emissions of PAH estimated in environmental impact assessments conducted to approve developments in the Athabasca oilsands region are likely too low,” reads the study published Monday in the U.S. journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

“The potential therefore exists that estimation of future risk to humans and wildlife because of surface mining in the Athabasca oilsands region has been underestimated.”

Professor Frank Wania, one of the study’s authors, said the results highlight the need for improved accounting of PAH emissions from oilsands operations, especially when more projects are being built or planned in the region.

Using computer models, researchers studied emissions estimates from environmental reports to predict chemical concentrations from direct oilsands industrial activity such as mining, processing and vehicle traffic.

They found the levels were lower than actually measured levels of chemicals in the air recorded in other scientific studies.

Researchers then modified the computer model to factor in estimates of evaporation from oilsands tailing ponds. Predicted concentrations were then much closer to the recorded levels.

They used a third model using concentrations of PAH levels measured by Environment Canada in the region between November 2010 and February 2011.

The results suggest emissions may be two to three times higher than the estimates recorded in project environmental reviews.

Wania said some chemicals pose a potential cancer risk, but nothing imminent.

The concentrations that have been measured in the air in the oilsands region are comparable to a big city such as Toronto.

“It is not that I am raising the red flag here, that we should be very concerned, because we live with these concentrations day in and day out,” he said.

“All we are saying is that the basis for the human health risk assessment is flawed.”

Environment Canada officials were not immediately available for comment.

Simon Dyer of the Pembina Institute, an environmental policy think-tank, said the study raises questions about tailings ponds and oilsands monitoring.

He said industry has never demonstrated that it is able to effectively deal with tailings waste and the government is not enforcing existing cleanup rules.

“This study provides further evidence that rules need to be enforced and the growth of tailings waste halted,” he wrote in an email.

Dyer said governments and regulators need to take the study’s findings into account when determining if it is appropriate to approve new projects.

He also said oilsands monitoring needs to be expanded.

Just Posted

WATCH: An ‘Eggstemely Fun Easter’ at Bower Place in Red Deer

Bower Place made sure Red Deer families were able to have an… Continue reading

RDC cancels championship-winning golf program due to tight finances

Short season, small number of student golfers were also considerations

Fire investigators comb through industrial fire wreckage looking for answers

Industrial building in north Red Deer was completely gutted in Wednesday morning fire

Time for a central Albertan in cabinet, says chamber of commerce

Central Alberta had no cabinet ministers in last government

WATCH video of Innisfail resident creating the world’s biggest caricature

Watch as Innisfail resident Dean Foster creates the world’s biggest caricature of… Continue reading

Notre Dame rector: “Computer glitch” possible fire culprit

PARIS — A “computer glitch” may have been behind the fast-spreading fire… Continue reading

Former journalist pleads guilty to robbing two banks in Medicine Hat

MEDICINE HAT, Alta. — A former journalist arrested almost two years ago… Continue reading

Austria fears for three top climbers missing in Banff National Park

BERLIN — Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz said Friday his thoughts are with… Continue reading

As Vancouver fights over 4-20, Seattle’s Hempfest enjoys tolerance, some support

VANCOUVER — They both came from humble beginnings: small protests against marijuana… Continue reading

All eyes on the surging Greens as Prince Edward Island goes to the polls

After a brief provincial election campaign devoid of drama, voters on Prince… Continue reading

North Dakota company where 4 were slain seeks normalcy

MANDAN, N.D. — Camaraderie was so important for the “coffee club” at… Continue reading

Trump blasts ex-advisers who say he tried to stop Mueller

WASHINGTON — A day after celebrating the release of the Mueller report… Continue reading

Sanders claims she didn’t lie, despite Mueller finding

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump’s spokeswoman Sarah Sanders pushed back Friday against… Continue reading

Most Read