Tar Sands Campaigner Eriel Tchekwie Deranger – THIS magazine and the Alberta Government

posted by Rainforest Action Network

Just Yesterday THIS magazine and Emily Hunter an environmental journalist and This Magazine’s resident eco-blogger posted a blog profiling myself and the work I am doing on the Tar Sands.  


Before there were any real hits on this blog and almost minutes after it was posted the Albert Government was on it asking for corrections on statements made by Emily linking cancer in Fort Chipewyan to PAH’s (polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons) found in the Athabasca river.  What I find most alarming about this is why Mr. David Sands, a representative of the Alberta government, was tolling the Internet and intimidating journalists in an attempt to censor facts and findings still in question.  The Alberta government went so far as to send a formal letter to both Emily Hunter and THIS magazine requesting a correction be made.

Dear Emily Hunter and This Magazine:

We request a correction to incorrect information published by you today. In the story “EcoChamber #15: Meet the woman at Ground Zero of the tar-sands fight,” you make the statement that oil sands developments “inject toxins into the Athabasca River through tailing-pond leakage (the same chemicals, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, or PAH, that are associated with the rare cancers found in First Nations communities).”

Regarding PAHs and your claimed linkage to cancer downstream of oil sands, I refer you to the report “Cancer Incidence in Fort Chipewyan, Alberta, 1995-2006,” for the Alberta Cancer Board. Specifically relating to PAHs, please see page 35. In brief: PAHs are not linked to cancer cases downstream of oil sands and PAHs do occur naturally in the environment and yet cannot be found at levels higher downstream from oil sands than at areas undisturbed by oil sands development.

Regarding tailings ponds leakage into the Athabasca River, the river has been monitored since the 1970s and neither the Government nor any independent agency has detected increased contamination of the river. Furthermore, tailings ponds are constructed with groundwater monitoring and seepage capture facilities, and seepage is pumped back into the pond. If there is leakage, it would be into deep saline aquifers below the ponds, which would naturally contain the same contaminants as the tailings in the first place. Finally, given the characteristics of the soils, even at the very highest rate imaginable, it would take 50 years for tailings to move just two metres through the earth.

In short, no cancers attributable to PAHs have been found downstream of oil sands, and there is no evidence of tailings ponds seepage into the Athabasca River. Please correct your story.

Here is a link to the cancer report:http://www.albertahealthservices.ca/files/News/rls-2009-02-06-fort-chipewyan -study.pdf

David Sands, for the Government of Alberta.

Counter to Mr. Sands facts many residents of the areas believe that the increasing levels of PAH’s are in fact linked to the increasing cases of cancers and other auto-immune diseases found in downstream communities.  In November of 2007 a private study funded by the Nunee Health Board was completed and can be read here. This study concluded there were in fact elevated levels of PAH’s found in the Athabasca basin, and that PAH’sare released during bitumen production” along with other natural occurring methods and that “many PAHs are known or expected human carcinogens.”  However, because there have been no in depth studies into the actual root of the elevated levels of PAH’s found in the Athabasca river the government does not allow anyone to point fingers.  One must consider that the elevated PAH, and many other toxins, have seen elevations in levels since the onset of major expansion of the Tar Sands in the area.  This cannot be negated or ignored when determining the source of PAH’s and other toxins and there link to increasing cancers and auto-immune diseases.

The Tar Sands and the destruction they bring with them was an area of great discussion over the last few days here in Saskatchewan where the Council of Federation has been taking place.  For more information on this meeting what’s been happening please check out the facebook page here.

It would seem that the work of the Freedom From Oil campaign and many others are causing a stir in both the corporate world as well as within the Alberta government.  For me, it’s just more reason to push forward and continue to fight for what I believe in and what I feel is right.

Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed  people can change the world.  Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” – Margaret Mead

Eriel Tchekwie Deranger