Researcher finds little change in air quality in northern Alberta's oilsands region over last 15 years

April 29, 2015 by Katie Willis, University of Alberta
Researcher finds little change in air quality in northern Alberta's oilsands region over last 15 years
Warren Kindzierski has studied air quality in Alberta for more than 20 years.

Alberta's oilsands have been the subject of controversy and discussion for many years. But residents in the Athabasca oilsands region needn't hold their breath about air pollution, says a professor in the University of Alberta's School of Public Health.

Since 2000, Warren Kindzierski and his colleagues have analyzed data on in three major communities in the —Fort McKay, Fort McMurray and Fort Chipewyan. A recent 15-year analysis showed that air quality in the region is not a threat to .

"There is a perception in the Athabasca oilsands region that air quality is poor," says Kindzierski. "Air quality in the communities we studied is actually quite good when compared with larger cities in Alberta and around the world."

Kindzierski's research, published in Environment International, shows little change in pollutant concentrations over the past 15 years. The study analyzed data on levels of nitrogen dioxide, sulfur dioxide and fine particulate at community stations in each of the three communities. No significant shifts were found, explains Kindzierski. The slight changes that do exist are more likely due to population growth along with oil production.

"We should be very concerned if air quality suddenly deteriorated. The value of studying air quality trends is that we can see major changes and address them. By collecting data over a longer period, we can see the big picture in context, instead of just a snapshot in time," says Kindzierski.

Oil production has been a major industry in the region since the 1990s. "In terms of technology and development, two decades is not a very long time. It takes between 50 and 60 years to fine-tune systems and develop best practices," explains Kindzierski. "This is simply the reality of industrialization."

In 2010, Kindzierski provided expert advice on a Government of Alberta panel. The panel led the development of the Alberta Environmental Monitoring, Evaluation and Reporting Agency (AEMERA). AEMERA is a governmental organization responsible for all environmental monitoring and testing within Alberta—including air quality and pollution in the oilsands region. Under the panel's recommendation and model, AEMERA will monitor air quality in the Athabasca oilsands to ensure pollution levels remain low.

"In terms of air quality, we saw no indication that industrial expansion should be curtailed in the Athabasca oilsands region," says Kindzierski. "The continued monitoring of pollution in the area will help the provincial government make informed decisions about and development. This is good news for everyone concerned."

Explore further: People living in communities near oil sands can breathe easy: study

More information: "Fifteen-year trends in criteria air pollutants in oil sands communities of Alberta, Canada," Environment International, Volume 74, January 2015, Pages 200-208, ISSN 0160-4120,

Related Stories

Study shows no lead pollution in oilsands region

October 24, 2014

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.

New insight into improving air quality measurements

March 12, 2015

Researchers from the National Physical Laboratory (NPL) and King's College London have identified a mechanism which is responsible for under-reporting of peak nitrogen dioxide concentrations at some air quality monitoring ...

Live-in caregivers unsung contributors to oilsands economy

February 10, 2015

A new study led by a University of Alberta sociologist shows that live-in caregivers are helping to ease work-life stresses for families in northern Alberta's oilsands region—but are facing stressful challenges of their ...

Recommended for you

Wood pellets: Renewable, but not carbon neutral

March 22, 2018

A return to firewood is bad for forests and the climate. So reports William Schlesinger, President Emeritus of the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies, in an Insights article published today in the journal Science.

Pacific plastic dump far larger than feared: study

March 22, 2018

The vast dump of plastic waste swirling in the Pacific ocean is now bigger than France, Germany and Spain combined—far larger than previously feared—and is growing rapidly, a study published Thursday warned.

The tradeoffs inherent in earthquake early warning systems

March 22, 2018

A team of researchers with the U.S. Geological Survey and the California Institute of Technology has found that modern earthquake early warning (EEW) systems require those interpreting their messages to take into consideration ...


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.