Scientists call on Alberta government to correct oilsands misinformation

Athabasca River Watershed in western Canada

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Two prominent scientists are calling on Alberta’s Environment Minister Rob Renner to correct the misinformation about the levels of carcinogens in the Athabasca River found on his ministry’s website.

In an open letter (7 June 2011) to Minister Renner the scientists, Dr. Kevin Timoney and Peter Lee, admonished the government for failing to correct misinformation found on the ministry’s website despite being alerted to it earlier.

On 11 May 2011, the two scientists sent a letter to Minister Renner detailing their study, which found that the concentration of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) found in the Athabasca River is increasing and that those increases are correlated with bitumen industry activity.

They called on the Minister to correct misinformation about PAHs found on Alberta Government web pages. In a written response, Minister Renner (30 May 2011) did not address the government misinformation and instead noted that a new study might be available by fall 2011.

The study by Timoney and Lee found that, between 1999 and 2009, the concentration of PAHs in the sediment of the Athabasca River Delta increased significantly. They noted “that measures of industrial activity are correlated with increases and that Alberta Government statements on the issue of PAHs are misleading or erroneous.”

In the face of this new evidence Alberta’s Environment Ministry still states that: “Monitoring stations downstream of mine sites show industrial contribution cannot be detected against historically consistent readings of naturally occurring compounds in the Athabasca River.”

Dr. Timoney noted: “As a result of its decade-long tradition of ignoring or denying science, coupled with its preference for unfounded public relations messages, the Alberta Government has lost its former scientific credibility.”

In response to Minister Renner’s May 30 letter, Timoney and Lee repeated their request that the Alberta Government correct its erroneous information, discipline those responsible for the errors, and improve monitoring and enforcement in the area.  The open letter concludes: “It is clear that the bitumen industry contributes significant levels of toxins to the environment, The time for denying facts and failing to address deficiencies is over.”

Dr. David Schindler of the University of Alberta adds: “Timoney and Lee’s paper, published in the world’s most prestigious chemical journal, agrees with our 2009 findings. The data that they analyzed were collected by industry’s own monitoring program. It is inexcusable not to update the government website with the new data.”

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