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Study shows no lead pollution in the oil sands region of Alberta

University of Alberta

Recent research from the University of Alberta reveals that contrary to current scientific knowledge, there's no atmospheric lead pollution in the province's oil sands region.

William Shotyk, a soil and water scientist who specializes in heavy metal pollution, examined sphagnum moss from 21 separate peat bogs in three locations around the oil sands 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 University of Alberta, Shotyk, based in the Faculty of Agricultural, Life and Environmental Sciences and his team compared them to moss samples of the same species in two areas in rural Germany that have the lowest concentrations of heavy metals in the country. What they found is that the Alberta mosses actually had lower concentrations of lead and other heavy metals.

"I found the lowest lead levels I've ever seen in moss," said Shotyk, who researched heavy metal pollution through moss in peat bogs for more than two decades in Europe before becoming the Bocock Chair in Agriculture and Environment at the University of Alberta.

The findings were recently published in the journal Environmental Science and Technology.

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 elevated 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.

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


Shotyk's research was funded by Alberta Innovates - Energy and Environment Solutions.

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