Scientists have found a nearly 7,500-square-mile ring of land and water contaminated by mercury surrounding the tar sands in Alberta, where energy companies are producing and shipping oil throughout Canada and the U.S.
Government scientists are preparing to publish a report that found levels of mercury are up to 16 times higher around the tar sand operations, principally due to the excavation and transportation of the bitumen in the sands by oil and gas companies, according to Postmedia-owned Canadian newspapers like the Vancouver Sun.
The revelations add to a growing concern over the environmental impacts of the tar sands. Many environmentalists charge that the exploitation of the sands for oil will lead to an increase in carbon emissions, the destruction and contamination of land and water and health problems for Canadians. The debate over the tar sands crossed over into the United States when energy company TransCanada proposed building the Keystone XL pipeline to transport the crude oil to the southeastern U.S. for refining and distribution.
Kirk and her colleagues’ research shows that the development of the tar sands may be responsible for spreading mercury —which can cause cancer in humans — far beyond the areas where drilling and transportation are taking place.