Addressing environmental risks: $1.9 million for trio of research projects

Posted on Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Three University of Ottawa researchers will share a total of $ 1, 934,895 in funding to support research that will lead to better decisions on protecting land and water in the North, a clearer understanding of the effects of contaminants associated with bitumen extraction, and new ways to track radionuclides released into fresh water by nuclear activities. The grants were awarded by the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC).

“This welcomed support demonstrates the University of Ottawa’s innovative expertise in science and technology, and highlights our role in conducting leading-edge research that is crucial to preserving our lands and waterways,” said Mona Nemer, Vice-President, Research.

Developing new tools for assessing legacy pollutants and their ecological consequences in the Northwest Territories
Jules Blais – Department of Earth Sciences, Faculty of Science

Professor Blais’ team will explore innovative tools to assess risk from industrial and residential activities in the Northwest Territories.  By applying geochemical and biological approaches that use key toxic indicators archived in lake sediments, the research team will assess the levels of toxic metals and hydrocarbons produced by local mines and the effects of these products on nearby lakes. They will also identify the sources and causes of methyl mercury “hotspots” concentrated near several mining operations. These tools will also measure the spread of arsenic species and differentiate between trioxide, a toxic arsenic derived mainly from stack emissions, and arsenopyrite, a less-toxic arsenic that is naturally occurring. This research will inform decision-makers and northern residents by identifying areas at risk for high contaminant exposure and will help stakeholders take land and water management decisions in the future.

Studying the negative effects of oil sands chemicals on amphipods and amphibians
Vance Trudeau – Department of Biology, Faculty of Science

Although there is little doubt that Canada's oil sands industry has had a positive effect on jobs and the economy, oil sands production remains controversial and some of its activities, such as mining,  may have negative environmental effects, including possible waterway contamination. Professor Trudeau’s research will look at new methods of  determining the effects of contaminants associated with bitumen extraction. The research team will study a specific group of oil sands chemicals that are poorly classified yet potentially toxic. The group will focus on the exposure rate, toxicity and sub-lethal effects of these chemicals on the development of small crustaceans and frog tadpoles, given these species’ importance in the ecosystem. This research will help provide important guidelines on toxicity and help develop sustainable methods of oil sands exploitation that would significantly reduce environmental and health risks.

New technologies to measure nuclear radionuclide measurement
Jack Cornett – Department of Earth Science – Faculty of Science

Using the Accelerator Mass Spectrometer (AMS) located in the Advanced Research Complex, a research team will develop, test and demonstrate the applications of new methods of measuring the levels of potentially harmful products known as radionuclides, which are generated by nuclear energy activities and could be released into fresh water. This new approach, featuring  more accurate spectrometric techniques, will provide rapid and economic ways to measure radionuclides, an important factor in assessing water quality near nuclear reactors and, consequently, in protecting the neighbouring environment. Canadian consulting companies will benefit from these state-of-the-art techniques, which they can use to inform their nuclear energy clients.

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