Waste water from Suncor spill fails toxicity tests – Rainbow trout unable to survive, province finds

 By Karen Kleiss, Edmonton Journal April 12, 2013

EDMONTON – The province on Friday released the results of water tests conducted after water leaked last month from Suncor’s oilsands facility into Alberta’s Athabasca River.

The test results show the undiluted waste water contained arsenic, ammonia, chloride and a host of other chemicals at levels above those deemed acceptable in Alberta’s Surface Water Guidelines.

However, the waste water was mixed with treated water before it was released into the river on March 25, and it is not yet clear how much, if any, chemicals were released.

“We can’t release the dilution rate and what impact that had on the river, as that’s part of the ongoing investigation,” said Nikki Booth, spokeswoman for Alberta Environment and Sustainable Resource Development.

Booth said those results won’t be released until the investigation is complete, a process that can take up to two years.

“We’re going to be as thorough as possible,” Booth said.

On March 25, Suncor discovered a pipe had frozen and burst, sending waste water into a pond of treated water. The resulting diluted water was then released into the Athabasca River.

A blog post published by the province on Friday details the results of independent water tests conducted after the spill.

It says the water contained trace levels of three cancer-causing chemicals called polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons.

The blog post also says the water failed the standard 96-hour rainbow trout acute toxicity test, likely because of a high concentration of acid.

“For those acute toxicity tests, you put those fish into the water and if 50 per cent of the fish die, it’s considered acutely toxic,” Greenpeace spokesman Mike Hudema said. “That’s scary when you think about it.”

Hudema said the test results are alarming, but the province’s response is equally troubling.

“The province didn’t even see fit to put out a news release,” Hudema said, referring to the government’s decision to post the results on an obscure government blog.

“There are still a lot of unanswered questions. We still don’t have very basic details, like what happened in the seven hours and 45 minutes before the province was notified. Who first reported this spill? How close was the spill to the Athabasca River?”

Suncor spokeswoman Sneh Seetal emphasized that the test results refer only to waste water, which was later mixed with treated water before it was released into the river. While the province won’t release the dilution rates, Seetal said the ratio was roughly six parts treated water to one part waste water.

“At the end of the day what’s important is what got into the river,” Seetal said.

Days after the spill, Suncor released the result of its own independent tests showing the water that entered the river would have a “short-term, negligible impact.”

The company tests showed that water contained suspended solids, such as clay and fine particulates, and did not contain bitumen.

Process-affected water is used in the extraction and upgrading process and has not yet been treated, Seetal said.

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