By Jennifer Skene
10 June 2015
(NRDC) – A document recently released under Canada's access-to-information law reveals that Canadian government officials have been aware of the proliferation of contaminants associated with tar sands mining even as they continues to promote industry expansion with minimal regulation. The January 2015 briefing note, prepared for Natural Resources Minister Greg Rickford, discusses findings from a tar sands monitoring report published in December 2014 describing dangerous concentrations of iron and cadmium in Alberta's wetlands and of phosphorous and nitrogen in the Athabasca River. In addition, increased concentrations of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH) in the toxic tailings ponds near tar sands strip mines are raising PAH levels in the atmosphere, which can lead to human health concerns like DNA damage and impaired development. The briefing note also highlights serious declines in species that rely on old forest habitat, which has been decimated by mining operations. Yet even with the knowledge furnished by this briefing note, the Canadian government has continued to promote the expansion of the tar sands industry, particularly through its support for tar sands pipelines like Keystone XL and Energy East.
Environmentalists and First Nations have been bringing attention to the dangers of tar sands mining and its associated contaminants for years. Almost a year ago two Alberta First Nations and the University of Manitoba released a report detailing high levels of carcinogens found in local species, including moose and muskrat, which have been traditionally harvested by First Nations for centuries. This and other studies have documented increased rates of cancers in communities like Fort Chipewyan that are located near or downstream from tar sands mining. A 2009 report from the Alberta Cancer Board determined that certain cancers, including extremely rare forms, had a 30 percent higher rate of incidence between 1995 and 2006 than would normally be expected. In February 2014, NRDC released its own fact sheet summarizing the scientific research documenting increases in air and water pollution and cancer rates linked with tar sands mining. Other communities have independently reported odors and emissions neartar sands mining that were causing headaches, dizziness, diarrhea, nausea, and difficulty breathing. [more]