Growth of fathead minnows in oilsand-processed wastewater in laboratory and field



Two waste products of Syncrude Canada Ltd. (SCL) oilsands mine are mature fine tailings (MFT), a toxic aqueous suspension of particles, organic acids, bitumen, and metals, and tailings pond water (TPW), a saline solution containing organic and inorganic contaminants. The chemical profiles of MFT interstitial water and TPW are very similar. Syncrude Canada has proposed disposing of MFT in constructed lakes, which would be lined with MFT and capped with clean water. As the MFT consolidates, MFT-associated water would be released into the overlying watercap. Prototype ponds support fathead minnows (Pimephales promelas), but the long-term viability of these populations is unknown. This study attempts to determine if exposure to MFT and TPW, a related waste product, affected growth of fathead minnow larvae in the laboratory and field. Laboratory larval growth bioassays (7 and 56 d) on whole effluent from numerous prototype ponds yielded no significant differences in dry weight, but one 7-d bioassay showed reduced survival in two SCL sites. A 56-d growth bioassay showed significant increases in length of fish exposed to SCL wastewater at 7 d but not at 28 or 56 d. Larvae exposed as embryos and then introduced into field mesocosms did display significant differences in dry weight. In this instance, fish exposed to wastewater were significantly larger during the laboratory portion of the test (initial), but after 21 d in a field mesocosm (final), they were similar in size or smaller than fish growing in nonprocessed water.