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New studies find low levels of toxic metals in the Athabasca River

Fort McMurray, AB, Canada / MIX 103.7
New studies find low levels of toxic metals in the Athabasca River


Research coming out of the University of Alberta, contrary to previous studies, is finding lower levels of toxic metals in the Athabasca River.

The Bocock Chair in Agriculture and Environment at the U of A, Professor William Shotky, tells Mix News his research failed to find any big traces or contamination from five trace elements near the oilsands.

In his first study, Shotky and his team tested samples from the river for any signs of silver, cadmium, and lead, which are all toxic to humans in high amounts, and found there was no difference upstream or downstream.

“The concentration is so low that you really need an ultra clean lab and the protocols and procedures that were developed to measure heavy metals in ancient arctic ice.”

Shotky says people were worried about the silver, as it was suggested the industrial development was releasing the metal into the river, however, he found the metal was only one part per trillion.

“Whether we’re upstream of industry or downstream, the silver concentration is the same.”

In fact, Shotky adds, the lead they found is not a naturally occurring metal in the bitumen, but is found in the sand itself, which is 85 per cent of the whole.

“When you’re lying on a beach are you worried about the lead you’re getting from the sand?”

Shotky says all of the traces metals they’ve found are naturally occurring in rocks and soil.

“It’s important to remember when we do any studies of heavy metal in the environment before we can talk about the impact of humans, we have to look at the contribution of mother nature.”

Shotky adds that the focus of his research is to work together with First Nations people living downstream from the oilsands as a way to get them the best data possible to give them real information about the water they’re drinking and the food they’re eating.

There are two more reports planned from the U of A, one focusing on potential biological contamination and another focusing on the fish in the river.

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