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WaterTalk presented by Diane Orihel and Alana Greaves

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Centre for Environmental and Information Technology

200 University Avenue West

Room 1015

Waterloo, ON N2L 3G1

Canada

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As part of the Water Institute's WaterTalks lecture series, Diane Orihel, National Scholar in Aquatic Ecotoxicology and assistant professor in Biology and Environmental Studies at Queen’s University, presents, "The importance of ecosystem-based ecotoxicology for advancing environmental policy, with special reference to Canadian Oil Sands development."

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One of the most pressing environmental problems we face is the global contamination of ecosystems with natural and industrial chemicals. Out of concern for the ecological and societal consequences of pollution emerged a synthetic discipline known as ecotoxicology―knowledge generated by this science provides the necessary foundation for effectively managing chemicals in the environment. Typically, chemicals are screened by short-term acute assays on model organisms under highly-controlled laboratory conditions. However, outdoor ecotoxicological experiments based in natural or model ecosystems have proven to yield not only powerful scientific insights regarding the fate and effects of pollutants, but also to be highly influential on environmental policy decisions. We argue that ecosystem-based ecotoxicology needs to be applied in the context of the Canadian Oil Sands in order to better understand and effectively mitigate the environmental impacts of this resource development.

Concern regarding the tailings ponds in the Athabasca oil sands has recently come to the forefront, due to a new directive from the Government of Alberta to eliminate tailings ponds within 10 years of the closure of a mine. The highly toxic wastewater generated during the extraction of bitumen is currently being held in these ponds. Before this water can be re-introduced into the aquatic environment, toxicity-reducing treatment technologies must be developed and tested. We propose to take oil sands wastewater — treated using a novel method developed by Dr. Frank Gu’s Lab — and test its potential effects on fish. We will conduct a toxicological assessment of this treated wastewater using fathead minnows in a new outdoor ecotoxicological facility at Queen’s University. Our proposed studies will inform policymakers on the safety of releasing water reclaimed through this treatment technology to the natural environment.

Speaker bio

Diane OrithelDiane Orihel is the National Scholar in Aquatic Ecotoxicology and assistant professor in Biology and Environmental Studies at Queen’s University. Dr. Orihel has 15 years of experience conducting ecosystem-based studies on the fate and effects of aquatic contaminants, including mercury, flame retardants, and nutrients. The current focus of her research group is on understanding the ecological impacts of unconventional oil extraction and transport on freshwater ecosystems.

Alana Greaves is an environmental toxicologist from Ottawa, Ontario, and a postdoctoral researcher at Queen’s University. She has conducted numerous projects investigating the fate and effects of chemical contaminants on aquatic wildlife, including polar bears and herring gulls. Alana takes an interdisciplinary approach to her research projects, often blending the fields of chemistry, ecology, environmental science, and biochemistry.

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Centre for Environmental and Information Technology

200 University Avenue West

Room 1015

Waterloo, ON N2L 3G1

Canada

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