In similar experiments conducted in 1996 and 2009, yellow perch (Perca flavescens) were stocked into two experimental systems: a demonstration lake where oil sands fine tailings were capped with natural water and a lake in a watershed containing bitumen-bearing sodic clays. In both experiments, yellow perch were captured in May from a nearby reservoir and released into the experimental ponds. Perch were recaptured in the experimental systems, the source lake, and two reference lakes in late September and lethally sampled to examine reproductive parameters. In the 1996 experiment, gonad size and steroid hormones were not affected in either pond environment. In the 2009 experiment, male perch in the water-capped tailings pond showed a significant reduction in the testicular development and reductions in circulating testosterone and 11-ketotestosterone, while no reductions were seen in the second experimental pond. No changes were observed in ovarian size or circulating steroid levels in female perch. In the pond containing tailings, the release of water from underlying tailings caused approximately a twofold increase in salinity, alkalinity, and naphthenic acids, and a pH increase from 8.4 to 9.4 over the 13-year period of the study. In the pond influenced by unextracted oil sands materials, total dissolved solids, major ions, and pH did not change substantially. However, naphthenic acids in this system dropped more than twofold post–watershed reclamation. Because the selective reproductive effect observed in male perch in the experimental end-pit lake were accompanied by increases in naphthenic acids, alkalinity, and pH, a specific cause cannot be determined. The present study adds to the evidence, suggesting the presence of endocrine-disrupting substances in oil sands. Environ. Toxicol. Chem. 2012;31:654–662. © 2011 SETAC
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