Posted on March 21, 2013 (updated: March 21, 2013)

Ecojustice research reveals oilsands facilities pollute Athabasca River

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.”

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