Tar Sands Hell! 7,300-sq-mile Ring of Mercury Around Tar Sands Mining Facilities in Canada

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Tar sands are transforming our amazing earth in a toxic hell!

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A tar-sands mining facility near Fort McMurray, Alberta. Jeff McIntosh/The Canadian Press/AP

Scientists have found a more than 7,300-square-mile ring of land and water contaminated by mercury surrounding the tar sands in Alberta, where energy companies are producing oil and shipping it throughout Canada and the U.S. Bitumen in the tar sands being excavated to produce oil is the likely culprit of the mercury deposits.

Government scientists are preparing to publish a report, which findings have already been reported at a toxicology conference in Nashville, Tenn, that found levels of mercury are up to 16 times higher around the tar-sand operations, according to Postmedia-owned Canadian newspapers like The Vancouver Sun or others like Al Jazeera. In a report published in October, another Canadian researcher found elevated levels of mercury in bird eggs downstream from the tar sands as well as traces of methylmercury, a more toxic form of mercury, in snow for the first time in the area.

Results of this research

This research shows that the development of the tar sands may be responsible for spreading mercury — which can cause nervous-system damage — far beyond the areas where drilling and transportation are taking place. Moreover, it suggests that the tar-sand development has created a ring of mercury contamination, with areas close to the sands showing much higher levels of mercury than before development. Is it similar for fracking areas?

While the mercury levels found around the sands are still lower than in other parts of Canada (notably around coal plants and incinerators), mercury is particularly worrisome to environmentalists because it can bioaccumulate, meaning it becomes more concentrated as it works its way up the food chain.

Growing concerns over tar sands

The revelations add to growing concerns over the environmental impact of mining the tar sands. Many environmentalists charge that extracting oil from the sands will lead to an increase in carbon emissions, the destruction of the land, water contamination and health problems for Canadians. The debate over the tar sands crossed over into the United States when energy company TransCanada proposed building the Keystone XL pipeline to transport crude oil to the southeastern U.S. for refining and distribution.

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3 COMMENTS

  1. Dr. Mitchell Taylor, Manager, Wildlife Research Section, Department of Environment, Igloolik, Nunavut, Canada: Our information is that 7 of 13 ptoluapions of polar bears in the Canadian Arctic Archipelago (more than half the world’s estimated total) are either stable, or increasing . Of the three that appear to be declining, only one has been shown to be affected by climate change. No one can say with certainty that climate change has not affected these other ptoluapions, but it is also true that we have no information to suggest that it has.

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