Opponents of oil sands development are concerned about the potential for adverse health effects if the leaking wastewater contaminates drinking water supplies. George Poitras, former chief of the Mikisew Cree First Nation, says chemicals leaking from tailings ponds “affect anybody or anything that relies on water as a source of drinking or a place to live in [including fish, moose, and birds]. The majority of our people rely on the traditional diets, on moose.”
Ecologist Kevin P. Timoney of Treeline Ecological Research believes the 11 million liters/day estimate is conservative; the actual rate, he says, is probably much greater. In A Study of Water and Sediment Quality as Related to Public Health Issues, Fort Chipewyan, Alberta, published in November 2007, Timoney described his analysis of published data on water and sediment quality indicators at the titular community, which is located at the northernmost edge of the Athabasca oil sands. He noted that Fort Chipewyan lies within a depositional basin in which metals and other contaminants tend to accumulate in fine-textured sediments. Concentrations of arsenic, mercury, and PAHs are especially high in water and sediment, and many other metals (including cadmium, chromium, cobalt, and lead) and agricultural chemicals also are present.
Timoney’s analysis further noted that studies of local fish have shown that all the walleye and female whitefish and almost all the male whitefish tested exceeded U.S. guidelines for mercury consumption. Although treated local water appeared safe, untreated water in Lake Athabasca had levels of arsenic, total mercury, and PAHs sufficient to pose a threat to wildlife or humans.
Glen Van Der Kraak, a professor in the Department of Integrative Biology at the University of Guelph, Ontario, says studies of fish exposed to oil sands wastewater consistently find endocrine disruption and impairments of reproductive physiology. For example, in research published in the 1 May 2008 issue of Aquatic Toxicology, Van Der Kraak and colleagues found that goldfish exposed to wastewater from tailings ponds had dramatically lower plasma levels of testosterone and 17β-estradiol than control fish. The prime suspect behind these effects, says Van Der Kraak, is naphthenic acids, compounds that are often present in tailings pond water.
Hundreds have been arrested on Parliament Hill while protesting the proposed Keystone XL pipeline. The protests have been organized by First Nations and environmental organizations, and are endorsed by Dene Nation.
Dene National Chief Bill Erasmus has joined the protests, and spoke to the crowd of one thousand about the impacts of tar sands developments on Dene.
“Toxic tailings ponds already cover hundreds of square kilometres , and are growing by the minute,” Erasmus said. “Millions of litres of contaminated water leak each day from these tailings ponds into groundwater and tributaries in the Athabasca River watershed. These waters flow through Denendeh, from northern Alberta to the Arctic Ocean, and any pollution in the water impacts our communities. This is one of our main concerns about tar sands development.”
The band claims the developments have forced band members out of traditional areas, degraded the environment and caused a decline in wildlife, making it impossible for them to meaningfully exercise their Treaty 6 rights to hunt, trap and fish.
“Nobody respects who we are,” Chief Vern Janvier said with tears in his eyes at a press conference. “There’s no consideration for us and there never has been.”
The idea is to beat big oil with cheaper energy. You can't fight the need for people to optimize their scarce resources, including enegy costs. Its like fighting physics. You have to beat them flat out on price.
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