Toronto – New tar sands tailings rules released today by the Government of Alberta will not end the practice of allowing millions of litres a day of toxic pollution to leak into the groundwater systems of the Athabasca watershed.
“The Government of Alberta has just sanctioned many years more toxic water and air contamination from tailings ponds,” said Matt Price, Project Manager with Environmental Defence. “Local communities and workers will continue to bear the health risks of using tailings ponds as cheap dumpsites for tar sands waste.”
A recent report by Environmental Defence used industry data to estimate that tailings ponds leak 4 billion litres a year of toxic pollution into groundwater, with projections that this could reach 25 billion litres a year within a decade. Tailings ponds are also a major source of air pollution, particularly in summer months when the heat causes volatile organic compounds (VOCs) from the ponds to vaporize into the air. Environment Canada has estimated that emissions of just one VOC – benzene, a human carcinogen – are now about 100 tonnes a year and could grow to 800 tonnes by 2015.
Environmental protection in the tar sands is a shared responsibility of the federal and Alberta governments, but the federal government has so far not enforced its pollution laws to crack down on toxic air and water releases from the tailings ponds.
“We are calling on the federal government to step in to do its job,” said Price. “We will not move beyond the debate about dirty oil until much stronger action is taken to end the destruction in the tar sands.”
Environmental Defence’s December 2008 report “11 Million Litres a Day: The Tar Sands’ Leaking Legacy” is available at
About Environmental Defence ( Environmental Defence protects the environment and human health. We research. We educate. We go to court when we have to. All in order to ensure clean air, clean water and thriving ecosystems nationwide, and to bring a halt to Canada’s contribution to climate change. Nationwide.
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For more information, or to arrange interviews, contact:
Jennifer Foulds, Environmental Defence, 416-323-9521 ext. 232; 647-280-9521 (cell)