Neurotoxic "bull's-eye" surrounds Canadian tar sands, scientists say

Levels of mercury in a vast area surrounding the controversial Alberta tar sands oil fields are on the rise and have reached levels up to 16 times higher than 'background' levels—a toxic side effect of the extraction process—according to a group of Canadian governmental scientists.

The group of researchers from Environment Canada presented their report, “Current and Long-term Trends in Atmospheric Deposition of Inorganic Contaminants and Methyl Mercury to the Alberta Oil Sands Region,” at a recent toxicology conference in Nashville, Postmedia  reports.

The report, which has not yet been published, reveals a "bull's-eye" ring of the neurotoxin encompassing over 7,300 square miles around the tar sands site.

The scientists said levels decreased in samples the further they got from the tar sands site.

"The scientists say much research remains to be done on the mercury around the oilsands,"Postmedia reports, "but there are indications the toxin is building up in some of the region’s wildlife."

Researcher Jane Kirk, who presented the findings, said in an interview with Postmedia that mercury is “the number one concern” of toxins generated by tar sands excavation to date.

“Here we have a direct source of methyl mercury being emitted in this region and deposited to the landscapes and water bodies,” Kirk said of samples the team took from snow and spring snow-melt. “So come snow-melt that methyl mercury is now going to enter lakes and rivers where potentially it could be taken up directly by organisms and then bioaccumulated and biomagnified though food webs.”

And Postmedia adds:

Kirk’s team has also found mercury and a long list of other priority pollutants on the bottom of five remote, seemingly undisturbed lakes located 10 to 50 kilometers from the oilsands, confirming findings of a related study last year.

Local indigenous and environmental groups have been engaged in a growing protest movement against the tar sands development in Alberta as well as continued plans by the Canadian government and tar sands industry to transport the corrosive fossil fuel via pipeline for export.

A  governmental review panel recently approved a proposal from energy giant Enbridge for the controversial Northern Gateway tar sands pipeline, which protesters say will bring inevitable oil spills to pristine habitats and illegally encroach on First Nations' lands.

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