New Study Claims Oil Sands Contaminate Wild Food Supply


Muskrat seasoned with mercury is off the menu. D. Gordon E. Robertson/Creative Commons

Muskrat seasoned with mercury is off the menu. D. Gordon E. Robertson/Creative Commons

Muskrat seasoned with mercury is off the menu. D. Gordon E. Robertson/Creative Commons

The impact of oil and gas development on nearby communities is a topic of intense interest across North America.  In Canada, oil sands production is providing employment to thousands, but may be causing traditional communities to avoid their traditional foods.

Muskrat and Moose in northern Alberta, Canada, might earn their stamps of “wild-caught” and “grass-fed,” but they also come with a good dose of pollutants, according to a new study.

Because of these contaminants, Canadian indigenous American communities are shifting away from their traditional diets toward less-healthy options, reports the Globe and Mail.

Titled Environmental and Human Health Implications of the Athabasca Oil Sands for the Mikisew Cree First Nation and Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation in Northern Alberta, the study claims:

Substantial employment opportunities are generated by the oil sands. Yet, this development, as well as upstream hydro projects, compromises the integrity of the environment and wildlife, which, in turn, adversely affects human health and well-being.

Human exposure rates to the contaminants were of little concern, the report said, because indigenous communities – known as First Nations in Canada – had been warned off traditional foods.

The study was funded by the National First Nations Environmental Contaminants Program, Health Canada, and two First Nation communities. It found the following common contaminants in wildlife:

  • Arsenic in muskrat, duck and moose at high enough levels to be of concern for young children
  • High mercury levels in duck muscle, kidneys and livers as well as moose and muskrat kidneys.

The study is the latest in a series suggesting health problems for local communities: an earlier study showed high levels of mercury in snow within 50 kilometers of Fort McMurray, and another showed increasing levels of mercury in bird’s eggs in the Athabasca River delta—although neither directly connected the contaminants with the oil sands production.

In an earlier editorial in the Globe and Mail, Tim Gray of Environmental Defense Canada argued that neither government nor industry was accurately measuring and monitoring the impact of tar sands extraction on water resources. In his editorial Gray wrote:

In total, the absence of effective enforcement and monitoring rewards lack of industry investment in environmental management. It allows industry to avoid paying the real cost of using and polluting water and it encourages tar sands companies to treat Canada’s shared water as their personal resource and a toxic dumping ground.