Ecojustice Blog – Climate change, Healthy communities Posted on March 22, 2013 (updated: February 17, 2015)

Ecojustice research offers troubling glimpse of harm oilsands pollution causes

Dr. Elaine MacDonaldScientist

What’s really going on in the oilsands region?

That’s the question Ecojustice hoped to help answer when we undertook our latest research. What we uncovered was unsettling, to say the least. Our research showed that toxic emissions from oilsands facilities in Northern Alberta are polluting the nearby Athabasca River, contaminating a waterway that’s home to more than half of the province’s fish species.

The Athabasca River is Alberta’s longest and only major free-flowing river, and it 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.

How we did it
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. The analysis was purposely conservative, examining just one of more than a dozen stacks at each facility.

What we found
The modelling estimates more than 1,000 tonnes of particulate matter deposition from the two stacks in just one year. 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.

Why is particulate matter bad for people and the environment?
Upgrading oil extracted from Alberta’s oilsands is a nasty bit of business. Huge amounts of energy are required to extract the thick, tarlike substance from the earth and transform it into synthetic crude oil.

The burning and combustion associated with upgrading comes at a heavy cost: the release of airborne pollutants, including particulate matter containing toxic polycyclic aromatic compounds. These substances have been found to cause cancer in humans and impact the development and survival of fish.

The BIG problem
Even though the oilsands are one of the biggest industrial projects on the planet, the federal government doesn’t monitor and report oilsands pollution in an accessible, transparent way. That means groups like Ecojustice have to go to great lengths to dig up and analyse data that should already be easily available to the public.

And without that data, Canadians have no way of holding polluters accountable for the harm polluters cause to our health and the environment. That needs to end now.

How you can help
You can take action today by sending a message to the federal government.

Tell the federal government that your health is a priority and that polluters must be held accountable for what they put into the air, water and land you depend on. Sign onto our open letter and tell the federal government to investigate and disclose the full impacts of oilsands pollution today.

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Thanks to the support of people like you, Ecojustice goes to court to protect what we value most — the air, land and water that sustains all life. Make your gift today and support bold litigation for a brighter environmental future.

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