The Alberta oil sands eroded bitumen/sediment transitional journey: Influence on sediment transport dynamics, PAH signatures and toxicological effect
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This paper investigated the sediment/contaminant continuum of bitumen containing sediment, from eroded exposed natural bitumen outcrops to river depositional zone, in order to improve our understanding of the transitional sediment, chemistry and toxicological influence on aquatic health. To achieve this aim, we linked a rainfall simulator with an annular flume to allow for connectivity between terrestrial erosion to stream flow. Bulk sediments were collected from the minable McMurray Formation (MF) on the Ells (EL) and Steepbank (STB) Rivers and from the Clearwater Formation (CF) on the STB. All plots generated similar washoff rates (~25 L hr-1) and fine eroded sediment (d50 = 5 μm) regardless of strata. The CF generated the highest total eroded sediment (TES) followed by EL-MF and STB-MF. The STB-MF generated up to three orders of magnitude lower TES than the STB-CF. The EL generated the highest PAH concentrations, however, when normalizing by TES mass delivered to the flume, STB-MF PAH was one to two orders of magnitude higher per unit mass than EL-MF. The TES concentrations were inversely proportional to the degree of bitumen within the sediment (STB-MF > EL-MF > STB-CF). Once the TES was suspended in the flume, there was a change in the dominant PAH for most classes [e.g., Dibenzothiophenes C4 (parent material) to a C3 (TES)]. Further, no flocculation and the buoyant properties of the TES suggested that the sediment and associated PAHs may travel long distances. The EL-MF proved to be the most toxic to fathead minnow embryo survival due principally to the high PAH concentrations and sediment loads. The CF exhibited no toxicological effect. This work has shown the importance of assessing sediment/contaminant characteristics over the continuum (terrestrial erosion/washoff to river deposition) in order to support basin wide management strategies for the protection of aquatic health.