Demand a Community Health Study After Disastrous Chemical Spill

Target: Steven Guilbeault, Minister of Environment and Climate Change of Canada

Goal: Investigate the apparent cover-up of a toxic spill in Alberta.

A toxic seepage incident from a tailings pond was not made public for nine months, up until the Alberta Energy Regulator (AER) issued an environmental protection order against a second spill. The two spills reportedly released 5.4 million liters and 5.3 million liters of hazardous waste into the environment. The hushed disposal of dangerous chemicals from Imperial Oil’s Kearl oilsands mine raises several questions. It is currently unclear whether AER had information regarding the first spill, and why the agency failed to raise the alarm. Imperial oil notified AER after the second incident and also issued an apology in this respect. Spokesperson Lisa Schmidt stated that the company deeply regrets the failure in communications of the earlier incident, but the statement did not clarify whether AER was aware of the issue.

Reportedly, neither the Federal Environment Minister, Steven Guilbeault, nor the Alberta Environment Minister, Sonya Savage, were aware of the issue until the second spill. Guilbeault’s spokesperson has stated that the failure of communication was ‘unacceptable.’ Savage has reportedly committed to investigating what took it so long, but no timelines have been set. Guilbeault has agreed to the need for a better monitoring system to report such incidents as they happen, but there has been no clarification on whether a health study would be conducted.

Tailings water is a contaminated by-product of the fossil fuel industry consisting of a mixture of naphthenic acids, arsenic, and leftover bitumen. These chemicals could be carcinogenic and might be extremely harmful to humans and wildlife. Meanwhile, the federal government has approved the shipment of bottled drinking water to the Mikisew Cree First Nation, probably to compensate for the potentially affected waterways due to the chemical leak. However, it is unclear which assessment process has been followed to determine that the First Nation needs to be supplied with bottled drinking water. Environment Canada has stated that based on the information provided by enforcement officers, “the seep is believed to be deleterious, or harmful, to fish.” AER and Imperial Oil are to testify at the House of Commons Standing Committee on Environment and Sustainable Development.

The leakage incidents call for public accountability on what exactly happened, the extent of the damage, and how it can be contained. Demand the environment ministry initiate a thorough investigation and conduct a health study of the aftereffects.


Dear Minister Guilbeault,

The AER was notified this year of a toxic tailings spill from Imperial Oil’s Kearl oilsands in Alberta. It also came to light that this is the second such incident, preceded by an earlier leakage nine months ago. The two leaks have reportedly released 5.4 million liters and 5.3 million liters of hazardous waste into the waterways. According to reports, the earlier incident was not made public for nine months.

It is unclear whether the AER knew of the first seepage incident. There is also a lack of transparency on the circumstances leading to the shipment of bottled drinking water to the Mikisew Cree First Nation.

Minister Guilbeault, we demand a thorough investigation of the apparent cover-up along with a public report on the damage caused by the incidents.


[Your Name Here]

Photo Credit: Heleno Kaizer

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