Study shows no lead pollution in oilsands region

October 24, 2014 by Michel Proulx, University of Alberta
William Shotyk has measured heavy metal pollution in many areas of the world by examining sphagnum moss. He found the moss in Alberta's oilsands region to be the cleanest he's ever seen.

New research from a world-renowned soil and water expert at the University of Alberta reveals that there's no atmospheric lead pollution in Alberta's oilsands region—a finding that contradicts current scientific knowledge.

William Shotyk, who specializes in research on , examined sphagnum from 21 separate in three locations around the oilsands area, near open pit mines and processing facilities.

After measuring the heavy metal content in the moss samples in his ultra-clean lab at the U of A, Shotyk and his team compared them with moss samples of the same species from two areas in rural Germany that have the lowest concentrations of heavy metals in the country. What they found is that the Alberta mosses had even lower concentrations of and other heavy metals.

"I found the lowest lead levels I've ever seen in moss," said Shotyk, who studied heavy metal pollution through moss in peat bogs for more than two decades in Europe before becoming the Bocock Chair in Agriculture and Environment in the U of A's Faculty of Agricultural, Life and Environmental Sciences in 2011.

He said that, in addition to lower concentrations of lead, he and his team also found lower concentrations of silver, cadmium, nickel, antimony and thallium; similar concentrations of molybdenum; and greater concentrations of barium, thorium and vanadium. The higher concentrations of barium and thorium reflect the abundance of dust particles in the air, whereas the vanadium concentrations are due to its abundance in the bitumen.

Shotyk explained that moss is often used to measure heavy metal deposits in Europe and North America because it's an excellent indicator. "Whatever is in the air is in the moss."

The findings also reveal, perhaps surprisingly to many Canadians, that lead concentrations in the mosses from Alberta are far lower than those found in surface layers of peat cores collected in recent years from British Columbia to New Brunswick.

Shotyk spent more than two decades in Switzerland and Germany conducting research on peat bogs and ice cores to detect environmental pollution and climate change. He discovered significant lead pollution in Switzerland and the Canadian Arctic dating back 3,500 years, all of it originating from smelting operations in what is now Spain and Portugal. In 2013, he was awarded the most prestigious award in soil science, the European Geosciences Union's Philippe Duchaufour Medal, for his distinguished contributions to soil science.

Shotyk's research was funded by Alberta Innovates – Energy and Environment Solutions and was published in Environmental Science and Technology.

Explore further: Monitoring heavy metals using mussels

More information: "Sphagnum Mosses from 21 Ombrotrophic Bogs in the Athabasca Bituminous Sands Region Show No Significant Atmospheric Contamination of 'Heavy Metals'" Environ. Sci. Technol., Article ASAP DOI: 10.1021/es503751v

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not rated yet Oct 24, 2014
This article was pushed to my Facebook feed while I was reading an article on regarding the success of German renewables how B.C. can go green. I just don't see how this study's findings (no lead pollution in oilsands region) by William Shotyk of the University of Alberta are objective/credible given that it was funded by Alberta Innovates – Energy and Environment Solutions… which, when looked up is the successor of, the Alberta Water Research Institute, Alberta Energy Research Institute and the Alberta Crown Corp – Alberta Oil Sands Technology and Research Authority (AOSTRA) that was established to "promote the development and use of new technologies for oil sands and heavy crude oil production, and enhanced recovery of conventional crude oil". I guess Energy and Environment Solutions sounds better for energy industry propaganda. Would you believe a study funded by oilsands interests that found no lead pollution in oilsands region?

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