About The Science Letter:
The federal government has been developing regulations that would allow the release of “treated” tailings water in the Athabasca. However, Indigenous Nations, Indigenous-led organizations and environmental groups have serious concerns over the lack of rigorous science backing the plan.
Public health professionals and expert academics are now voicing their concerns about the plan. They highlight the toxicity of the mixture held in the oil sands tailings ponds and demand specific information be made public for independent scientists to review before regulations are developed any further.
In their letter, the experts ask for chemical exposure characterization, hazard dose-response assessment, and risk characterization in order for the affected communities and the scientific community to assess the safety of the plans ahead of public consultations.
Photo credit: Garth Lenz
- Tailings ponds are industry-made reservoirs the size of lakes in which the toxic byproduct of oil extraction from tar sands are stored. They contain dangerous chemicals such as ammonia, lead, mercury, benzene and naphthenic acid.
- In 2017, Environmental Defence (EDC) published a report concluding that both the Alberta and the Canadian government are responsible for resolving the toxic tailings pollution crisis.
- Recently, we took the lead on creating a submission to the Commission for Environmental Cooperation (CEC) in which we argued that the leaking tailings ponds were operating in violation of Canada’s Fisheries Act. The CEC findings supported and concurred that the Federal government has a responsibility to address the tailings leakage issue.
- Instead of enforcing the Fisheries Act, the Federal government is now proposing to develop regulations to facilitate the oil industry’s preferred solution: to treat and release tailings water into the Athabasca River.
- First Nations communities and advocacy groups are deeply troubled that no independent study has shown that any proposed treatments will be safe. Of particular concern are the high levels of salinity and naphthenic acids in the tailings water that could pose a risk to biota in receiving waters and to human health.
- Keepers of the Water, an Indigenous-led organization and our partner on this campaign, organized a science symposium on the topic which you can watch here.