Canada Tar Sands Linked To Cancer In Native Communities, Report Says

Renee Lewis | Aljazeera America | July 8, 2014

The study is the first to link Alberta development fields with illnesses and wildlife contamination downstream

Canada’s tar sands development, in the Alberta province, has been linked to environmental contaminants in wildlife and increasing incidences of cancer in indigenous communities, a new report released this week said.  “This report confirms what we have always suspected about the association between environmental contaminants from [tar] sands production upstream and cancer and other serious illnesses in our community,” Mikisew Cree First Nation (MCFN) Chief Steve Courtoreille said in a press release Monday. “We are greatly alarmed and demand further research and studies are done to expand on the findings of this report.”

Tar sands oil, or bitumen, has been pegged by critics as among the dirtiest fuels on earth. The substance is as thick as peanut butter and must be diluted with toxic chemicals in order to be transported through pipelines.  Elevated levels of arsenic, cadmium, mercury, selenium and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) were found in a variety of animals that indigenous groups depend on for food — such as moose, muskrats, ducks, beavers and fish, according to the report. Indigenous populations are especially vulnerable to these impacts because of the close link between their livelihoods and the environment.  

People in First Nations communities have responded to what they believe is the increasing presence of toxins in traditional food sources by resorting to store-bought alternatives — a change which has negatively affected their health, the report said.  Alberta’s Athabasca tar sands represents the largest reservoir of tar sands in the world that is suitable for large-scale surface mining — and is a major boon to the Canadian economy. But some First Nations communities and environmentalists say they are concerned about toxic chemicals that could hurt their health and the environment that many indigenous groups still depend on...