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TitleCentury-long source apportionment of PAHs in Athabasca oil sands region lakes using diagnostic ratios and compound-specific carbon isotope signatures
AuthorJautzy, JORCID logo; Ahad, J M EORCID logo; Gobeil, C; Savard, M MORCID logo
SourceEnvironmental Science & Technology (ES & T) vol. 47, no. 12, 2013 p. 6155-6163,
LinksSupporting information / Information supportif
Alt SeriesEarth Sciences Sector, Contribution Series 20120420
PublisherAmerican Chemical Society (ACS)
Mediaon-line; digital
File formatpdf
NTS74D/15; 74E/02
AreaFort McMurray
Lat/Long WENS-110.8333 -110.5000 57.0833 56.8333
Subjectsfossil fuels; environmental geology; geochronology; oil sands; carbon isotopes; bitumen; open pit mining; erosion; environmental impacts; lead; cesium; radon; Athabasca oil sands; McMurray Formation
ProgramEnvironmental Geoscience Coal & Oil Resources Environmental Sustainability
Released2013 06 03
AbstractEvaluating the impact that airborne contamination associated with Athabasca oil sands (AOS) mining operations has on the surrounding boreal forest ecosystem requires a rigorous approach to source discrimination. This study presents a century-long historical record of source apportionment of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) in dated sediments from two headwater lakes located approximately 40 and 55 km east from the main area of open pit mining activities. Concentrations of the 16 Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) priority PAHs in addition to retene, dibenzothiophene (DBT), and six alkylated groups were measured, and both PAH molecular diagnostic ratios and carbon isotopic signatures (delta-13C) of individual PAHs were used to differentiate natural from anthropogenic inputs. Although concentrations of PAHs in these lakes were low and below the Canadian Council of Ministers of the Environment (CCME) guidelines, diagnostic ratios pointed to an increasingly larger input of petroleum-derived (i.e., petrogenic) PAHs over the past 30 years concomitant with delta-13C values progressively shifting to the value of unprocessed AOS bitumen. This petrogenic source is attributed to the deposition of bitumen in dust particles associated with wind erosion from open pit mines.
Summary(Plain Language Summary, not published)
Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) are a group of organic contaminants found naturally in Athabasca oil sands bitumen that are released to the environment through various sources, including non-mining-related ones (e.g., forest fires). A rigorous approach to PAH source discrimination is essential to understand the extent to which oil sands development contributes to atmospheric emissions of contaminants at distal sites. In this study, we report a detailed historical analysis of airborne PAH sources and deposition in the oil sands region in sediment cores from two small lakes located approximately 40 and 55 km east of the main area of mining operations. Although concentrations of PAHs in sediments from these lakes were low and below Canadian guidelines, our study suggests that oil sands-derived PAHs have increased over the past 30 years. The source for this recent input is attributed to the deposition of bitumen in dust associated with wind erosion from open pit mines.

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