Oil in Alberta spill may be carcinogenic

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Wednesday, August 10, 2005

The province of Alberta, Canada is considering legal action against Canadian National Railway for failing to warn that a derailment last week contaminated Wabamun Lake with a hazardous chemical.

The 700,000 litres of heavy Bunker C fuel oil that spilled into the lake asphyxiated birds and killed fish.

In addition, one of the ruptured tanker cars sent 70,000 liters of Imperial Pole Treating Oil into the lake. This oil is a yellow mixture of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons and aliphatic hydrocarbons. Naphthalene, a component of this "very toxic material" is suspected of causing skin cancer if touched and lung or other cancers if inhaled.[1] Inhalation is promoted by actions that cause splashing or foaming. The mineral oil is used in connection with pentachlorophenol for preserving wooden utility poles.

Wabamun Lake is a popular summertime recreational area about 65 kilometers (40 miles) west of Edmonton, Alberta.

The 766-megawatt Keephills power generating plant, one of 3 in Wabamun, was shut down because the coal-fired plant uses water from the lake. Edmonton's health authority ordered people not to swim, boat or rescue animals in the lake and to stop using its water or any water from nearby wells for cooking, drinking, showering or brushing teeth. These warnings came 3 days after many residents, including children, had been wading into the oil slick without protective clothing to save wildlife injured by the spill and others had been routinely depending on the lakewater for home use. Why the alert was not issued sooner remains under investigation and may result in criminal charges. Canadian National Railway had been informed of the nature of the oil when it was loaded by Imperial Oil Ltd., Canada's largest petroleum company. Imperial Oil is posting informational updates on a special website [2]. In addition The Wabamun Residents Committee has established an information website [3].

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