Spawning sockeye salmon are seen making their way up the Adams River in Roderick Haig-Brown Provincial Park near Chase, B.C., on October 13, 2014. Salmon migrating through rivers and streams in British Columbia use all their strength, but new research says even tiny amounts of diluted bitumen weakens their chances of making it back to spawn. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward

Bitumen spill would harm B.C. salmon: study

Exposure to diluted bitumen hinders the swimming performance of salmon, causes their heart muscle to stiffen and damages their kidneys

Salmon migrating through rivers and streams in British Columbia use all their strength, but new research says even tiny amounts of diluted bitumen weakens their chances of making it back to spawn.

Exposure to diluted bitumen hinders the swimming performance of salmon, causes their heart muscle to stiffen and damages their kidneys, Sarah Alderman, a post-doctorate researcher at the University of Guelph, said in an interview.

“We’re seeing changes from molecules up to what the organ actually looks like. All of this is affecting how they can actually swim.”

Bitumen has the consistency of crumbling asphalt and doesn’t flow freely like oil. It needs to be diluted with another petroleum product for it to flow through pipelines.

It is the main crude product flowing through Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain pipeline from Alberta to B.C. The capacity of the pipeline is slated to triple to 900,000 barrels a day.

No one was available from Trans Mountain for an interview. The company said in a statement that it is not familiar with the University of Guelph research, but it is committed to ensuring pipeline safety.

“Trans Mountain shares the value Canadians place on our waterways and our important salmon populations,” said the statement.

“Pipeline safety is our number one priority and, through the experience gained in 65 years of operations, Trans Mountain has developed a mature suite of programs to prevent pipeline failures and maximize the safety of the pipeline system.”

Alderman said their research and work from Simon Fraser University, based in Burnaby, B.C., and the University of British Columbia are the first studies on the impact of bitumen on salmon migration.

“It really is an area that hasn’t had much attention,” she said. “Our knowledge of bitumen toxicity is really limited.”

Alderman said a bitumen spill is more difficult to control than an oil spill because bitumen sinks, while oil can be corralled with booms and skimmed from the surface.

The research involved exposing year-old salmon, the typical age of migration from freshwater to the sea, to low levels of bitumen. The salmon exposed to diluted bitumen were found to be less fit, with a 15-per-cent reduction in swimming capacity and signs of cardiac fibrosis. she said.

Blood tests indicated muscle and kidney damage, raising concerns about the ability of the salmon to recover from their migration, Alderman said.

“All of our (bitumen) exposures are at really low concentrations, parts per billion,” she said. “It doesn’t take much to have a big effect. The highest one we used was about 70 parts per billion of these dissolved compounds, and that’s 20 times less than was measured in the Gulf of Mexico after the BP oil spill.”

An explosion on the Deep Water Horizon oil rig in 2010 caused massive environmental damage along the coastline of the United States. It is considered the largest marine oil spill in the industry’s history.

The researchers plan to test how salmon perform in a simulated migration from fresh to salt water after being exposed to diluted bitumen, Alderman said.

She said the Trans Mountain expansion project and a potential spill is on the minds of the researchers.

The pipeline crosses the Fraser River watershed, Canada’s largest freshwater salmon-bearing area, Alderman said. B.C.’s commercial salmon and sport fishing industries are worth hundreds of millions of dollars and the species has significant cultural and spiritual importance to Indigenous people.

Alderman said they want to know how to be prepared for a possible spill and initial research indicates a quick responses limits the harm to salmon populations.

“That’s the big take home message from our first study,” Alderman said. “If this happens it really matters what life stages are present in the stream and how quickly you can clean it up and how much gets spilled.”

Dirk Meissner, The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Just Posted

Wolf Creek Schools raises Treaty 6 flag for first time

Chiefs, school officials took part in a ceremony that is aimed at acknowledging Treaty 6 land

Lacombe Generals looking to capture Allan Cup on home ice

Generals returning key veterans in hopes avenging last years finals loss

Unsightly properties upcoming focus for Bylaw Enforcement

Clean up of long-standing, problematic properties will begin on Sept. 21

City of Lacombe 2018-2021 Strategic Plan now available

The plan is the premiere planning document for achieving Council’s stated vision

Gord Bamford returns to Central Alberta on latest tour

Hocky Tonks and Dive Bars Tour coming to Bo’s in November

WATCH: AHS breaks ground on new Lacombe Community Health Centre

17,000 sq. ft. facility will bring existing Lacombe AHS services together

Update: Search called off for missing plane between Edmonton and Chilliwack

Search efforts were concentrated along the Highway 5 corridor between Valemount and Kamloops

Canada signs global pact to help rid world’s oceans of abandoned fishing gear

The federal Fisheries Minister says it’s a ‘critical issue’

GOP pushing forward for Kavanaugh, accuser wants ‘fairness’

Kavanaugh has denied al allegations of sexual misconduct

Rural Canada Post carriers could see 25-per-cent pay hike: spokesman

An arbitrator has released a ruling in a long-standing pay equity dispute at Canada Post

Freeland brings optimism back to NAFTA talks

NAFTA talks resume in Washington

Bradley Williams takes over as Westerner Park Interim CEO

CFR expected to go on as scheduled with no disruption

Despite protests, Russia’s anti-doping agency reinstated

On a 9-2 vote, the executive committee declared RUSADA as having satisfied conditions

The longest week: Carolinas worn out by Florence

Frustration and sheer exhaustion are building as thousands of people wait to go home seven days after the storm began battering the coast.

Most Read