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A Canadian federal government report by scientists working with Environment Canada estimated last week that Alberta oil sands are polluting ground water and toxic chemicals are seeping into the Athabasca River at rates higher than previously suspected.

Oil companies in Alberta’s oil sands create lakes, called tailings ponds, to contain the processed water and chemicals used to separate the bitumen from the sand. Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation has been complaining for years that their fish have become deformed and inedible, that wildlife has disappeared and that cancer in the community has risen dramatically since the oil sands began production.

Canadian musicians Neil Young and Diana Krall staged a tour last January to help raise funds for the First Nation, and to bring attention to the oil sands production practices that Young says leaves the environment looking like Hiroshima.

That no one disputes the contamination claims yet there is talk of increased production is puzzling.

It was previously estimated that 11 million litres per day of all tailings ponds’ water combined was leaching into ground water, then finding its way into the Athabasca River. This latest government report, however, estimates 6.5 million litres per day is escaping, but that’s from only one of the tailings ponds.

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