Water Quality and the Oil Sands

Alberta Oil Sands Operation. Photo by Howl Arts Collective, Create Commons License.

The Question
How are the oil sands affecting the health of our waterways?
The Background
A recent study by scientists at Environment Canada working in collaboration with scientists at Canadian universities shows that the oil sands are a major source of pollution in Alberta lakes. They found that levels of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) are on the rise with increased oil extraction in the regions. These chemicals are deemed carcinogenic and have been linked to infertility, immune disorders, and fish mutations. Yet there are no regulations or policies to address this.  See below for more information.
Your letter to Federal Scientists
Dear Scientists at the Aquatic Contaminants Research Division of Environment Canada,

Canadians are concerned about the impact of oil sands development on their access to safe drinking water and on the health of our waterways for the plants and animals living downstream. We are grateful that federal scientists like you have been tracking water pollution in lake ecosystems in and around the oil sands. Your recent findings published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences show that water pollution in northern Alberta lakes is a result of oil sands development (Kurek et al. 2013). These findings are concerning. We understand that these pollutants include polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), which are known carcinogens affecting both humans and animals.

Environment Canada states that, “No matter the source, Environment Canada works to track, control and reduce pollutants in our environment.” Are the pollution levels you found high enough to cause negative health impacts for humans and wildlife? How would you apply your findings towards improving protections for Canada’s vulnerable aquatic ecosystems and the people and animals living downstream?

I am writing this email as part of Write2Know (http://write2know.ca) a letter-writing campaign that aims to mobilize public awareness and inquiry into federal research programs. We want to let you know that we value federal science and scientists, and that our questions arise out of genuine concerns about the health and well-being of Canadians.

We remain concerned about the legacy of constraints on access to federal scientists and the results of their research, the elimination of essential research programs, and the closure of libraries and archives. These constraints and closures have impacted what Canadians can and cannot know about the health of their bodies, communities, and environments. We are hopeful that a new government will address our concerns.

We are posing questions to federal scientists about their research and findings, and forwarding our letters to federal Ministers and Members of Parliament.

I look forward to your response.
Sincerely,

[Your name]

cc.
Dr. Marlene Evans, Research Scientist, Environment Canada
Dr. Jane Kirk, Research Scientist, Environment Canada
Dr. Derek Muir, Section Head, Aquatic Contaminants Research Division, Environment Canada
Dr. James Sherry, Chief, Aquatic Contaminants Research Division, Environment Canada
Dr. David Boerner, Director General, Water Science & Technology, Environment Canada
Hon. Catherine McKenna, Minister of Environment and Climate Change
Hon. Jim Carr, Minister of Natural Resources
Hon. Carolyn Bennett, Minister of Indigenous and Northern Affairs
Hon. Jane Philpott, Minister of Health

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Add your Signature to the Letter on Effects of the Oil Sands on Water Quality

Dear Scientists,

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126Pia BergerToronto, OntarioMar 23, 2015
125Kelly HusackRegina, SKMar 23, 2015
124Quintin Zachary HewlettHamilton, ONTARIOMar 23, 2015
123Joan SteigerwaldToronto, OntarioMar 23, 2015
122Karen GordonMar 23, 2015
121Paul BainesToronto, OntarioMar 23, 2015
120Reg QuintonSt Marys, OntarioMar 23, 2015
119Sara MartelToronto, OntarioMar 23, 2015
118nerea calvillolondonMar 23, 2015
117Peter RamsdenSt. John'sMar 23, 2015
116Paula GrahamMar 23, 2015
115Stephanie LloydMar 23, 2015
114Adra GreigToronto, OntarioMar 23, 2015
113Troy HeadMar 23, 2015
112Lorraine QuastOakville, OnMar 22, 2015
111Carrie RubelToronto, OntarioMar 22, 2015
110Daniel MudrickToronto, OntarioMar 22, 2015
109Phyllis CreightonToronto, OntarioMar 22, 2015
108Jennette LukasikHamilton, OntarioMar 22, 2015
107Isabel AranedaToronto, OnMar 22, 2015
106Katherine DuncansonMar 22, 2015
105Brooke Topptoronto, OntarioMar 22, 2015
104Melissa BennerToronto, OntarioMar 21, 2015
103Heather MollesonWhitby, ONMar 21, 2015
102Devon MollesonWhitby, ONMar 21, 2015
101Gina MollesonSt. John's, NLMar 21, 2015
100James DeutschMar 21, 2015
99Nathalie BrunetTorbay, Newfoundland & LabradorMar 21, 2015
98Cameron MurrayToronto, OnMar 21, 2015
97Denis LeBlancOttawa, OntarioMar 21, 2015
96Tanya RichardsonGuelph, ONMar 20, 2015
95Scott TurnerMar 20, 2015
94Diane Beckettottawa, OntarioMar 20, 2015
93Kelly FritschToronto, OntarioMar 20, 2015
92Ellen BrodeyMar 20, 2015
91Shawn MackinnonBrooklyn, NYMar 19, 2015
90Bonnie NorthBarrie, OntarioMar 19, 2015
89Dr. Tanya DahmsRegina, SaskatchewanMar 19, 2015
88Megan StewartSt. John's, NLMar 19, 2015
87Mary McCartneyMar 19, 2015
86Lisa FredricksonVancouver, British ColumbiaMar 19, 2015
85Donna MartinLake Cowichan, British ColumbiaMar 19, 2015
84Robyn BrownFort Smith, NTMar 19, 2015
83Inge TammToronto, OntarioMar 19, 2015
82Frank ChesterToronto, OntarioMar 19, 2015
81Marie St.Onge-DavidsonOttawa, ONMar 19, 2015
80Ann KujundzicVictoria, B.C.Mar 18, 2015
79Jody BerlandToronto, ONMar 18, 2015
78Eric MykhalovskiyToronto, ONMar 18, 2015
77Benjamin MitchellHalifax, NSMar 18, 2015
76Tara Lynn KranicsMISSISSAUGA, OntarioMar 18, 2015
75PETER HOBBSTORONTO, OntarioMar 18, 2015
74Charlie MacLeodLaSalle, QuebecMar 18, 2015
73Nancy BiggsOrleans, OntarioMar 18, 2015
72Berenicci HershornToronto, OntarioMar 18, 2015
71Tom HenhefferToronto, OntarioMar 18, 2015
70Yacine Dottridge Toronto, OntarioMar 18, 2015
69Edward NagyToronto, OntarioMar 18, 2015
68Heather DavisMar 18, 2015
67Julia Gruson-WoodToronto, OntarioMar 18, 2015
66Xan ChackoOAKLAND, CA - CaliforniaMar 18, 2015
65Arnold Amber, CJFE PresidentToronto, OntarioMar 18, 2015
64Kevin O'ConnorLondon, OntarioMar 18, 2015
63Alice BuchananAlliston, OntarioMar 17, 2015
62Laura SnidermanToronto, OntarioMar 17, 2015
61Natalie LovelessEdmonton, AlbertaMar 17, 2015
60Sarah Calvertbarrie , onMar 17, 2015
59Lindsay BellSyracuse, New YorkMar 17, 2015
58Joshua WeinerMar 17, 2015
57Sue StaniforthNorth Saanich, BCMar 16, 2015
56Dayna ScottToronto, ONMar 16, 2015
55kady cowantoronto, OntarioMar 16, 2015
54Leesa FawcettMono, OntarioMar 16, 2015
53Krista MaxwellToronto, OntarioMar 16, 2015
52Constance RussellThunder BayMar 16, 2015
51Tyler ArseneaultPort Coquitlam, British ColumbiaMar 16, 2015
50Ashley JohnsonToronto, OntarioMar 16, 2015
49Fran ThoburnMar 16, 2015
48N MAstoria, New YorkMar 16, 2015
47Xantha KarpMt Pleasant, MIMar 16, 2015
46Freyda IsaacsToronto, OntarioMar 16, 2015
45Michael D. DewLangley, B.C.Mar 16, 2015
44June LarkinToronto, OntarioMar 16, 2015
43Marta BerbesKitchener, OntarioMar 16, 2015
42DAVID HLYNSKYToronto, OntarioMar 15, 2015
41Alfredo ConversoCanora, SaskatchewanMar 15, 2015
40Sabrina ScottToronto, OntarioMar 15, 2015
39Jillian SmithMar 15, 2015
38Christianne StephensHamilton, OntarioMar 14, 2015
37Ailsa CraigSt. John's, NLMar 14, 2015
36Michael HooperDonkin, Nova ScotiaMar 14, 2015
35Michael Oman-ReaganMar 13, 2015
34Stuart BasdenToronto, OntarioMar 13, 2015
33Marilyn MarshallStratford, ONMar 13, 2015
32Michael ZrydToronto, OntarioMar 13, 2015
31carol farkastoronto, OntarioMar 13, 2015
30Bret HamptonKimberley, British ColumbiaMar 13, 2015
29Dr. Gregory Lowan-TrudeauCalgary, ABMar 13, 2015
28Katrea Dearnessvictoria, British ColumbiaMar 13, 2015
27Brian OwensSt Stephen, NBMar 13, 2015
26Sheila MoiniOttawa, OntarioMar 13, 2015
25Lisa HowseSaskatoon, SaskatchewanMar 13, 2015
24Troy OgdenRegina, SKMar 13, 2015
23Max LiboironSt. John's, NewfoundlandMar 13, 2015
22Amanda WhiteToronto, ONMar 12, 2015
21Magdalena Kazubowski-HoustonToronto, ONMar 12, 2015
20Lina PintoToronto, OntarioMar 12, 2015
19Margrit EichlerToronto, OntarioMar 12, 2015
18Allan DykstraVanier, OntarioMar 12, 2015
17Alison SymeToronto, OntarioMar 12, 2015
16Miguel Daraîche-LeblancMontréal, PQMar 12, 2015
15Charles MaurerToronto, ONMar 12, 2015
14Karen LaprairieWhitehorse , YukonMar 12, 2015
13Doug PritchardToronto, OntarioMar 12, 2015
12Sara KomarniskyEdmonton, Alberta (AB)Mar 12, 2015
11Kira TurnerCambridge, OntarioMar 12, 2015
10Fabiana LiWinnipeg, ManitobaMar 12, 2015
9Katrin LepikToronto, OntarioMar 11, 2015
8thomas klie-cribbMar 12, 2015
7Callum C. J. SutherlandToronto, OntarioMar 11, 2015
6Chloe Shantz-HilkesToronto, OntarioMar 11, 2015
5Doreen MartensOakville, OnMar 11, 2015
4Ayelen LiberonaTorontoMar 11, 2015
3Caitlin WellsAlbertaMar 11, 2015
2Rayna SlobodianMar 11, 2015
1Natasha MyersToronto, OntarioMar 11, 2015

More Information


Josh Wingrove, “Oil sands development polluting Alberta lakes: studyThe Globe and Mail, January 7, 2013

Kurek et al. 2013. “Legacy of a half century of Athabasca oil sands development recorded by lake ecosystemsProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 110 (5): 1761-1766.

Canada-Alberta Oil Sands Environmental Monitoring Information Portal

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