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Toxic emissions from tar sands equal to a major oil spill every year

The Canadian Press reports that, “An independent study suggests pollution from Alberta’s oilsands is nearly five times greater and twice as widespread as industry figures say.”

“In the summer of 2008, (David) Schindler’s team set up monitoring stations on the Athabasca (River) and several of its tributaries. Some stations were upstream of both the oilsands and facilities, others were in the middle of the deposits but upstream of industry and still others were downstream of both.  It found petrochemical concentrations did not increase until the streams flowed past oilsands facilities, especially when they flowed past new construction.”

“‘We found rather massive inputs of toxic organic compounds by the oilsands industry to the Athabasca River and its tributaries,’ said David Schindler, a co-author of the study. ‘The major contribution to the river was from industry.'”

The Globe and Mail adds that, “At sites in the oil sands where nearby land has not been disturbed, PAC (polycyclic aromatic compounds) levels in rivers are similar to what is found in remote Canadian Arctic waterways, but in areas most affected by extraction activity, they rise by near 10 to nearly 50-fold, reaching amounts within the range of harm to aquatic life.”

“(Schindler) said that the finding indicates ‘a clear violation’ of the federal Fisheries Act, which makes it illegal to add substances harmful to fish in the waterways.”

34,000 TONNES OF BITUMEN PARTICULATES EVERY YEAR “Researchers also took snow samples from similar locations earlier that spring. They found deposits of bitumen particulates within a 50-kilometre radius around Suncor and Syncrude’s upgraders – twice the previous distance estimate. The deposits were ‘substantial’ and enough to form an oily slick on the snow when it was melted.”

“In all, the study estimates about 34,000 tonnes of particulates are falling every year near Suncor’s and Syncrude’s facilities, which were designated as the centre of development. Company figures total just over 6,000 tonnes.  The study calculates those particles carry 3.5 tonnes of raw bitumen and carcinogenic polycyclic aromatic compounds (PAC).”

“‘This amount of bitumen released in a pulse would be equivalent to a major oil spill, repeated annually,’ the report says.”

“The study, published Monday in the U.S.-based Proceedings of National Academy of Science, also takes direct aim at Alberta’s monitoring program. ‘Our study confirms the serious defects of the (regional aquatic monitoring program),’ it says. ‘More than 10 years of inconsistent sampling design, inadequate statistical power and monitoring-insensitive responses have missed major sources of (contamination) to the Athabasca watershed.'”

“Schindler said nothing has changed in the province’s monitoring program since it was criticized in a 2004 review.”

E & E News adds that, “The (Alberta) government has relied in part on the industry-funded joint Regional Aquatics Monitoring Program (RAMP) to monitor aquatic ecosystems near the oil sands sites. But RAMP lacks scientific oversight and keeps its methods and its data confidential, the study said.”

“RAMP has not measured PACs for several years after its tests revealed little or no water pollution, Schindler said.”

“RAMP should submit to oversight by an independent board of experts and make its data available for public scrutiny, the authors said.”

The full University of Alberta paper will be available at the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science website at www.pnas.org.

The Canadian Press article is at http://www.thestar.com/mobile/news/canada/article/735399–oilsands-pollution-exceeds-official-estimates-study.