Environment — February 25, 2014 at 11:04 AM

Federal study confirms oilsands tailings leaching into Athabasca

A scarecrow meant to deter water fowl stands guard over an oilsands tailing pond.

Photo: NWF Blogs

A scarecrow meant to deter water fowl stands guard over an oilsands tailing pond.

New federal research confirms what residents downstream of the oilsands have been saying for years, that tailings ponds along the Athabasca River are seeping into the waterway via groundwater.

The study by Environment Canada compared the chemical composition of the tailings with groundwater under the Athabasca River.

It found the fingerprint of the chemicals in the tailings ponds, noted to be different from chemicals found in naturally occurring bitumen deposits, matched samples of groundwater around mining operations and underneath the river.

The research was done as part of the federal-provincial joint oilsands monitoring program and was published earlier this year in the Environmental Science and Technology journal.

Previous research estimates 6.5 million litres per day are leaking from a single pond into the river.

Independent researchers carried out a similar study last year on the Athabasca using traditional knowledge to locate a site on the river where groundwater was suspected of flowing into the Athabasca from the nearby Suncor tailings pond.

Tests done matched the chemical composition, including the presence of toxic heavy metals and carcinogenic hydrocarbons, of the water from the underground channel with the nearby tailings.

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