Newspaper article International Herald Tribune

Oil Sands Study Stirs Cancer Fears ; Levels of Chemicals Rose in Canadian Lakes Close to Extraction Facilities

Newspaper article International Herald Tribune

Oil Sands Study Stirs Cancer Fears ; Levels of Chemicals Rose in Canadian Lakes Close to Extraction Facilities

Article excerpt

Researchers found that the levels of cancer-causing deposits in lakes north of the center of the oil sands industry have been steadily rising since large-scale oil sands production began in 1978.

The development of Alberta's oil sands has increased the levels of cancer-causing compounds in surrounding lakes well beyond natural levels, Canadian researchers have reported in a study. And they said the contamination covered a wider area than had previously been believed.

For the study, financed by the Canadian government, the researchers set out to develop a historical record of the contamination, analyzing sediment dating back about 50 years in six small and shallow lakes north of Fort McMurray, Alberta, the center of the oil sands industry. Layers of the sediment were tested for deposits of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, or PAHs, groups of chemicals associated with oil that in many cases have been found to cause cancer in humans after long-term exposure.

"One of the biggest challenges is that we lacked long-term data," said John P. Smol, the paper's lead author and a professor of biology at Queen's University in Kingston, Ontario. "So some in industry have been saying that the pollution in the tar sands is natural, it's always been there."

The researchers found that to the contrary, the levels of those deposits have been steadily rising since large-scale oil sands production began in 1978.

Samples from one test site now show 2.5 times to 23 times the volume of PAHs in current sediment as in layers dating to about 1960, according to the paper, which was released Monday.

"We're not saying these are poisonous ponds," Mr. Smol said. "But it's going to get worse. It's not too late, but the trend is not looking good."

He said that the wilderness lakes studied by the group were now contaminated as much as lakes in urban centers.

The study is likely to provide further ammunition to critics of the industry, who already contend that oil extracted from Canadian oil sands poses environmental hazards like toxic sludge ponds, greenhouse gas emissions and the destruction of boreal forests.

Battles are also under way over the proposed construction of the Keystone XL pipeline, which would move the oil down through the western United States and on to refineries along the Gulf Coast, or an alternative pipeline that would transport the oil from Alberta, which is landlocked, to British Columbia for export to Asia. …

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