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Ecojustice research reveals oilsands facilities pollute Athabasca River

Mar 21, 2013 09:18 AM

Environmental group calls for federal investigation under the Fisheries Act

Mar 05, 2013

EDMONTON — Ecojustice, armed with research that shows how toxic oilsands emissions are contaminating the Athabasca River, has called on the federal government to investigate whether oilsands operators have violated the Fisheries Act.

“Canadians have the right to know how oilsands production impacts our air, water and land,” said Ecojustice senior scientist Elaine MacDonald. “The federal government has an obligation to monitor pollution and make the data accessible to the public. Otherwise, how can we be sure polluters aren’t breaking the law?”

Ecojustice used the limited public information available through the National Pollutants Release Inventory to conduct deposition modelling that illustrates how particulate matter emitted by two separate oilsands facilities pollutes the Athabasca River. Particulate matter contains toxic polycyclic aromatic compounds, which have been found to cause cancer in humans and impact the development and survival of fish. 

The analysis was purposely conservative, examining just one of more than a dozen stacks at each facility. Taking into consideration all sources of emissions along the river, the cumulative impact of oilsands pollution on the Athabasca and its surrounding ecosystems is likely significant.

Ecojustice’s findings corroborate independent and federal studies — including the work of Dr. David Schindler and Dr. Erin Kelly — that concluded oilsands pollutants are contaminating the Athabasca River. However, the extent of this pollution and more importantly, the contributions of individual oilsands operators, are still unclear due to weak monitoring and reporting requirements.

“Groups like Ecojustice should not have to go to such great lengths to dig up and analyze data that should be readily available to the public, but the federal government has failed to ensure oilsands pollution is monitored and reported transparently,” MacDonald said. “Without that data and analysis, there is no way to hold polluters accountable for the harm they cause to the environment.”

As a result, Ecojustice has written to Environment Canada and Canada’s Director of Public Prosecutions to request that the federal government immediately carry out a formal investigation to determine if oilsands facilities — including ones operated by Suncor Energy and Syncrude Canada — have violated section 36(3) of the Fisheries Act, which states: 

Subject to subsection (4), no person shall deposit or permit the deposit of a deleterious substance of any type in water frequented by fish or in any place under any conditions where the deleterious substance or any other deleterious substance that results from the deposit of the deleterious substance may enter any such water.

The Athabasca River, Alberta’s longest and only major free-flowing river, holds ecological, cultural and commercial significance for the people that live along its shores. It is also a vital life source for many wildlife species. For example, the Lower Athabasca River is home to more than 50 per cent of Alberta’s fish species, which include the walleye and northern pike.

“Ecojustice’s research paints an unsettling picture of what’s happening in the oilsands region,” MacDonald said. “The next step is clear. The federal government must immediately investigate the full scope and impact of oilsands pollution on the Athabasca River to ensure that the Fisheries Act is not being violated and that the health and wellbeing of Canadians are not being put at risk.”

For more information, please contact:
Elaine MacDonald, senior staff scientist | Ecojustice
416.368.7533 x527 | 416.564.4400

Melissa Gorrie, staff lawyer | Ecojustice



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