IISD-ELA, ON (photo: S. Stoyanovich)

Effects of Pipeline Spills in Canadian Boreal Lakes

 

   We will assess risks associated with a diluted bitumen (dilbit) spill to water, the major environmental risk from pipelines. The purpose of this research is to generate important information on the fate, transport, and toxicity of dilbit to inform management practices and regulatory measures on future pipeline projects. The objectives of this research are: (1) quantify the behavior, fate, and weathering of dilbit constituents in a natural Canadian Boreal water column as simulated in a contained enclosure system; (2) perform an exposure assessment of dilbit constituents based on a 'water column' and 'bottom substrate' exposure design; (3) determine bioaccumulation of dilbit constituents from a water column', and 'bottom substrate' exposure design; (4) assess dilbit toxicity based on a 'dose-response' design; and (5) provide much-needed information to assist the development of management practices and regulations for the transport of diluted bitumen in Canada. This research will provide important information on the long term impacts of dilbit spills in aquatic environments and assist in planning remediation strategies for future spills. This information is critical for local decision makers, including Environment and Climate Change Canada, Fisheries and Oceans Canada, the National Energy Board, and the Ontario Ministry of the Environment, who are responsible for managing lands affected by pipeline breaches.

Environmental Impacts of Legacy Gold Mining

 

   This project will develop novel tools to assess risk from industrial and residential activities near Yellowknife, NWT. The purpose of this research is to generate new information on the extent and fate of environmental contaminants in the Yellowknife area to inform future land and water management decisions.  The specific objectives of this research are: (1) to characterize and determine the spatial extent of toxic metals and hydrocarbons produced by local mines, and identify their toxicological effects on nearby lakes using paleoecotoxicological methods; (2) to determine the mobility and bioaccessibility of arsenic species in the vicinity of Yellowknife and differentiate between the toxic arsenic trioxide derived mainly from stack emissions and the naturally occurring arsenopyrite, which is less toxic; and (3) to identify the sources and causes for methyl mercury ‘hotspots’ focused near some of the abandoned mining operations, which are contributing to elevated methyl mercury in the region. This research will provide important information on the long term stability, toxicity, and bioaccumulation potential of pollutants in aquatic environments near these mines. This information is critical for local decision makers, including the Giant Mine Remediation Team, which is responsible for managing the remediation of Giant Mine, as well as the Government of Northwest Territories and the City of Yellowknife, which are both responsible for managing lands still affected by these long abandoned mines.

Giant Mine, Yellowknife, NT (photo: A. Houben)

Tailings Pond, AB (photo: P. Thomas)

Environmental Impacts of Oil Sands Development on Ecosystems & Wildlife

 

  The Peace-Athabasca Delta (PAD) is the largest inland, freshwater delta in the world. Formed by the confluence of two of Canada’s great rivers, the dynamic landscape of the PAD is an ecologically sensitive environment, as well as being culturally important for local First Nations communities. Of particular interest are the impacts that upstream development is having on the hydrology and ecology of lake ecosystems in the PAD. Hydroelectric generation and resource extraction along the Peace River, and the well-known oil sands developments along the Athabasca River make the PAD a unique location to study the impacts of human activities, particularly given the concerns that have been raised by the local community in Fort Chipewyan, AB. Our research is part of a collaborative project with colleagues at the University of Waterloo and Wilfrid Laurier University assessing recent environmental changes in the PAD.

Contaminant and Nutrient Amplification by Migratory Animals (Biovectors)

 

   Industrial contaminants reaching the Arctic can have a significant impact on people and ecosystems. The prevailing view is that long range transport of semivolatile contaminants to the Arctic is primarily conducted by the physical system (e.g. winds, currents). Although this view may be correct in terms of bulk budgets and fluxes, it neglects the potential of animal behaviour to focus contaminants into foodwebs due to their behaviours and lifecycles. In particular, gregarious animals that biomagnify and bioaccumulate certain contaminants and then migrate and congregate can become the predominant pathway for contaminants in many circumstances following five major steps: emissions, loading, collection, transport, and deposition or transfer of contaminants to receptor sites. Anadromous fish, like sockeye salmon, colonial seabirds, and whales provide prominent examples for such behavior in the Arctic. Over the past ten years, we have been examining the potential for biovector transport in the Arctic to expose receptor ecosystems to pollutants.

Blais et al. 2007. Environ. Sci. Technol.

Thaw slump Mackenzie Delta, NT (photo:A. Houben)

Impact of Thawing Permafrost on Biogeochemical Cycles

 

   We are assessing the impact of thawing permafrost on freshwaters on the Mackenzie Delta in the Northwest Territories, and in Old Crow Flats in the Yukon. By identifying lakes affected by recent permafrost thaw slumps with aerial photographs, and comparing lakes receiving large discharges from thawing permafrost with lakes where permafrost degradation is less apparent, we can determine the extent that melting permafrost affects water quality (organic contaminants, metals, nutrients). Using this information, we can develop methods to track permafrost degradation in lakes. By extracting lake sediment cores, we will apply these tools to reconstruct the history of permafrost degradation in lakes, and determine if chemical releases by permafrost thawing diminish over time. Finally, we will determine if contaminants released by degrading permafrost are accumulating in freshwater food webs that constitute an important part of traditional diet and lifestyle.

Exposure of Firefighters to Metals and Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons

 

   Firefighters are among those occupations with elevated risk of injury and chronic disease. There is mounting evidence that firefighters are at elevated risk of developing cancer and other serious diseases. Firefighters use personal protective equipment (PPE) and masks while on the job. But there is growing concern that current protocols for use, handling, and decontamination of gear, including personal uniforms may not fully isolate firefighters from contaminants, which could result in cross contamination and lead to undue exposure to hazardous chemicals by firefighters. Firefighters can also be exposed to secondary sources. This study is a joint collaboration between the Ottawa Fire Services and the University of Ottawa.

Turn-out Room, Ottawa, ON (photo: L. Kimpe)

Waste Treatment Centre, Corunna, ON  (photo: A. Al Ansari)

Pharmaceuticals and Personal Care Products in the Environment

 

   Endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs) are a class of chemicals that mimic the action of natural hormones in the environment and adversely affect the function of the endocrine system leading to alteration in growth, development, and reproduction in exposed animals. Steroidal estrogens, alkylphenols, certain pesticides, bisphenol A and synthetic musk fragrances are EDCs that are being detected in the effluent of wastewater treatment plants (WWTPs) as well as the receiving waters and sediments at very low concentrations but are sometimes present at biologically active concentrations. In male fish and frogs, the induction of vitellogenin (VTG), a precursor egg yolk protein synthesized typically in females by the action of their endogenous estrogen, and intersex are well recognized biological endpoints of estrogenic chemicals in the environment.

Impact of Climate Warming on the Biogeochemistry of Northern Environments

 

   Recent and dramatic climate changes in Arctic freshwaters are affecting the transport and fate of anthropogenic contaminants to aquatic systems, the two largest threats facing northern communities and ecosystems. This research will develop new tools to examine how the fate of anthropogenic contaminants is affected in Arctic regions under different climate change conditions. Due to the paucity of direct environmental monitoring in Arctic regions, this proposal will investigate how contaminant cycles in Arctic freshwater ecosystems are affected by climate change as recorded in sediment archives. We will combine established, state-of-the-art technologies in reconstructing climate from preserved sedimentary paleolimnological proxies, and concurrent records of contaminant deposition histories.

Yellowknife, NT (photo: L. Kimpe)