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Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Tar sands mining linked to stream pollution

Written by Nicola Jones

"Canada's tar sands mining operations seem to be raising the levels of toxins in local rivers, according to a study released today. The report finds that levels of polycyclic aromatic compounds (PACs) are higher downstream of mining activity, and can be detected in concentrations high enough to merit concern about the development of fish eggs."
"The authors note that their results contradict some government and industry claims that these compounds arise from natural erosion of the surrounding oily landscape and are not a cause of environmental concern."
"Industry's response has always been 'of course there are carcinogens in the water, there's a natural source'," says lead author David Schindler of the University of Alberta, Edmonton. "But it defied logic to think that all that was going in was natural."
"The main body that monitors pollution in the area — the Regional Aquatic Monitoring Program (RAMP) — has typically found low to undetectable levels of PACs in river water, and that their flow into the main river delta has not gone up since 1997, which would indicate that they are not linked to mining. RAMP, set up by the Alberta government in 1997, is composed of representatives from the government, aboriginal communities, environmental groups and industry.
In the study, to be published by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences this week, the authors says that RAMP suffers from "serious deficits", such as an inconsistent sampling design, a lack of strong government leadership, and datasets that aren't open to the public. In a response to Nature, RAMP said that it employs scientifically credible methodology, and has typically restricted access to its data in order to encourage membership — a practice that they are considering revising."

"The study's authors looked at water samples from the Athabasca river and its tributaries upstream of the tar sands area. They compared them to samples downstream of the tar sands but upstream of any mining, as well as downstream of mining activities. There was a small increase in PACs for both downstream samples in winter, and a large, 10-50-fold increase in PACs downstream of mining in summer when the river is not covered with ice and so more open to pollutants. Areas with more extensive mining development were linked to higher levels of PACs. The highest levels detected were about 0.7 micrograms per litre; 0.4 micrograms per litre can be toxic to fish embryos, the authors note."

"Preston McEachern, a limnologist with Alberta Environment, a government body that participates in RAMP and regulates pollution in the region, says it is industry's responsibility to monitor their own water emissions. Alberta's government spends Can$400,000 (US$380,000) a year auditing these reports. He notes that the government has been working with the University of Victoria to develop isotopic tracers that can untangle natural erosion from mining pollution, which is a tricky problem. "It's not like we're trying to whitewash," he says.
"It's a bad idea to have industry monitoring itself," counters Schindler. "Sort of like abolishing the police and asking people to pull over if they see they're speeding and report themselves."

To read the entire article please click on the following link:

 For someone unfamiliar with polycyclic aromatic compound, I decided I needed to educate myself about them.Here is what I consider to be the most important facts about them:

Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) are chemical compounds that consist of fused aromatic rings. The important thing for people  (like this blog writer) who have a lack of understanding of chemistry to know about these chemical compounds, is that exposure to them can cause a person to develop cancer,cardiovascular problems,gastroinstinal and liver toxicity,problems with  the reproductive system,respiratory problems and skin and sense organ problems.

As stated at the following website: 

"The term polycyclic organic matter (POM) defines a broad class of compounds that includes the polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon compounds (PAHs), of which benzo[a]pyrene is a member.  POM compounds are formed primarily from combustion and are present in the atmosphere in particulate form.  Sources of air emissions are diverse and include cigarette smoke, vehicle exhaust, home heating, laying tar, and grilling meat.  Cancer is the major concern from exposure to POM.  Epidemiologic studies have reported an increase in lung cancer in humans exposed to coke oven emissions, roofing tar emissions, and cigarette smoke; all of these mixtures contain POM compounds.  Animal studies have reported respiratory tract tumors from inhalation exposure to benzo[a]pyrene and forestomach tumors, leukemia, and lung tumors from oral exposure to benzo[a]pyrene.  EPA has classified seven PAHs (benzo[a]pyrene, benz[a]anthracene, chrysene, benzo[b]fluoranthene, benzo[k]fluoranthene, dibenz[a,h]anthracene, and indeno[1,2,3-cd]pyrene) as Group B2, probable human carcinogens."

  • The primary source of POM is formation during combustion. A less significant formation mechanism is the volatilization of lightweight POM compounds, which occurs in the production and use of naphthalene. 
  • Polycyclic organic compounds have been detected in ambient air from sources including cigarette smoke, vehicle exhausts, asphalt roads, coal, coal tar, agricultural burning, residential wood burning, and hazardous waste sites. 
  • Benzo[a]pyrene, one of the more commonly monitored PAHs, has been detected in urban air at levels approximately twice as high as those in rural areas (e.g., 0.6 nanograms per cubic meter (ng/m3) versus 0.3 ng/m3). Seasonal variations have also been observed from monitoring in the Northeast U.S. during the early 1980s, with mean benzo[a]pyrene concentrations during the winter more than an order of magnitude greater than during the summer. )
  • PAHs have been found in some drinking water supplies. 
 The fact that this new study shows that PAH's are being found downstream in Alberta waters where mining has occurred,and that these findings contradict existing findings of government and industry, is a concern for all Albertans!The fact that documented scientific evidence exists which indicates exposure to these compounds is hazardous to health should raise an alarm inside us! What is the Alberta Government and industries involved in activities which create polycyclic aromatic compounds going to do reduce the emissions of these dangerous chemicals in the drinking water supplies of Albertans, and in our environment?
Concerned citizens should contact the government and these companies and demand they answer questions concerning these new findings.

To contact  Rob Reiner, the Alberta Government Minister of the Environment, by email use this email address:
Or to voice your concerns contact Mr. Reiner at the following phone number:

(780) 427-2391

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Thoughts worth thinking about

"Our subconscious minds have no sense of humor, play no jokes and cannot tell the difference between reality and an imagined thought or image. What we continually think about eventually will manifest in our lives."-Sidney Madwed

Laws alone can not secure freedom of expression; in order that every woman and man present their views without penalty, there must be spirit of tolerance in the entire population.- Albert Einstein Too often we underestimate the power of a touch, a smile, a kind word, a listening ear, an honest compliment, or the smallest act of caring, all of which have the potential to turn a life around. - Leo Buscaglia

A person's true wealth is the good he or she does in the world. - Mohammed

Our task must be to free ourselves... by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature and its beauty. -Albert Einstein

The best way to find yourself, is to lose yourself in the service of others. - Ghandi

The unselfish effort to bring cheer to others will be the beginning of a happier life for ourselves. - Helen Keller

Aim for success, not perfection. Never give up your right to be wrong, because then you will lose the ability to learn new things and move forward with your life. Remember that fear always lurks behind perfectionism. Confronting your fears and allowing yourself the right to be human can, paradoxically, make yourself a happier and more productive person. - Dr. David M. Burns

Life is as dear to a mute creature as it is to man. Just as one wants happiness and fears pain, just as one wants to live and not die, so do other creatures. -His Holiness The Dalai Lama

Mankind's true moral test, its fundamental test (which lies deeply buried from view), consists of its attitude towards those who are at its mercy: animals. And in this respect mankind has suffered a fundamental debacle, a debacle so fundamental that all others stem from it. -

Milan Kundera, The Unbearable Lightness of Being

The worst sin towards our fellow creatures is not to hate them, but to be indifferent to them. That's the essence of inhumanity. -George Bernard Shaw

Ego's trick is to make us lose sight of our interdependence. That kind of ego-thought gives us a perfect justification to look out only for ourselves. But that is far from the truth. In reality we all depend on each other and we have to help each other. The husband has to help his wife, the wife has to help the husband, the mother has to help her children, and the children are supposed to help the parents too, whether they want to or not.-Gehlek Rinpoche Source: "The Best Buddhist Writing 2005 pg. 165

The hostile attitude of conquering nature ignores the basic interdependence of all things and events---that the world beyond the skin is actually an extension of our own bodies---and will end in destroying the very environment from which we emerge and upon which our whole life depends.