Tuesday, February 04, 2014
Athabasca's Cancer Ponds
The Athabasca Tar Sands tailing ponds are said to be so huge they're visible to the naked eye from space. As the Harper government steamrollers over obstacles in the way of massive Tar Sands expansion and new pipelines to transport bitumen to overseas markets, those tailing ponds will be getting ever more numerous, ever larger. A new report from the University of Toronto reveals those tailing ponds are already releasing high levels of carcinogenic vapours into the air.
The emission levels of some toxic air pollutants in the Alberta oilsands have been greatly underestimated, according to University of Toronto researchers.
“When dealing with chemicals that have such great potential to harm people and animals, it is absolutely vital that we truly understand how, and how much they are being released into the environment,” Abha Parajulee, lead author of a paper on oilsands pollution, said in a news release.
The U of T study used a model to predict emission levels of a group of atmospheric pollutants known as polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, or PAHs, which can be highly carcinogenic.
“Tailing ponds are not the end of the journey for the pollutants they contain. PAHs are highly volatile, meaning they escape into the air much more than many people think,” Parajulee said.
The model also factored in additional PAHs released during the transport and storage of other waste materials from oilsands operations.
The researchers said the higher levels of PAHs predicted by the model are consistent with levels measured in samples taken from areas near and in the Athabasca oilsands region.
Athabasca bitumen producers, faced with enormous costs to remediate the existing tailing ponds, have been floating a proposal to simply leave the ponds intact in the hope that, within a century, they'll miraculously cleanse themselves and give Alberta the gift of free wetlands. Yeah, that sounds like a plan.