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Century-Long Source Apportionment of PAHs in Athabasca Oil Sands Region Lakes Using Diagnostic Ratios and Compound-Specific Carbon Isotope Signatures

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journal contribution
posted on 18.06.2013, 00:00 by Josué Jautzy, Jason M. E. Ahad, Charles Gobeil, Martine M. Savard
Evaluating the impact that airborne contamination associated with Athabasca oil sands (AOS) mining operations has on the surrounding boreal forest ecosystem requires a rigorous approach to source discrimination. This study presents a century-long historical record of source apportionment of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) in dated sediments from two headwater lakes located approximately 40 and 55 km east from the main area of open pit mining activities. Concentrations of the 16 Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) priority PAHs in addition to retene, dibenzothiophene (DBT), and six alkylated groups were measured, and both PAH molecular diagnostic ratios and carbon isotopic signatures (δ13C) of individual PAHs were used to differentiate natural from anthropogenic inputs. Although concentrations of PAHs in these lakes were low and below the Canadian Council of Ministers of the Environment (CCME) guidelines, diagnostic ratios pointed to an increasingly larger input of petroleum-derived (i.e., petrogenic) PAHs over the past 30 years concomitant with δ13C values progressively shifting to the value of unprocessed AOS bitumen. This petrogenic source is attributed to the deposition of bitumen in dust particles associated with wind erosion from open pit mines.

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