Monitoring PA: Quick response through collaboration

Kelly Munkittrick

Kelly Munkittrick
Director, Monitoring Priority Area

Successful environmental monitoring relies on collaboration between government, researchers, industry and community members. This system of identification, notification and action was demonstrated recently through COSIA’s Monitoring Priority Area. 

“The Joint Oil Sands Monitoring [JOSM] program is meant to bring improved sensitivity to oil sands monitoring and early identification of potential impacts,” explains Kelly Munkittrick, COSIA’s Monitoring Priority Area director.

A recent study by Environment  and Climate Change Canada (ECCC), and funded by JOSM, measured contaminant levels in animal carcasses, including fishers, martens and otters, provided by trappers in the oil sands area. “When Phillipe Thomas at ECCC made us aware of the study, we were able to respond quickly when the data came out and suggested a concern,” said Kelly. “Fishers were showing detectable levels of a rodenticide poison commonly used by commercial pest control companies. The concern was that fishers were ingesting the toxic substance by feeding off animals exposed to the poison near industrial infrastructure in the region.”

All major infrastructure use rodent control strategies as part of their program to protect workers’ health and safety, and to protect infrastructure integrity. The rodenticide chemicals of concern are second generation poisons (with higher toxicity and higher persistence), which are used by companies in industries like forestry, agriculture and oil and gas, because they control pests more effectively than other rodenticides.

A survey of companies showed that the main compound of concern, bromadiolone, was being used at a variety of facilities in Northern Alberta, including by oil sands operators. While products containing bromadiolone worked well, the chemical also stayed in an animal’s body much longer than other rodenticides. When these results were presented as an emerging issue to members of the Monitoring priority area, companies immediately looked into which of their sites were using rodenticide containing the compounds of concern and removed them from their pest control procedures.

“Our member companies responded right away,” recalls Kelly. “This is a great example of how sensitive environmental monitoring, early communication with industry, and proactive action can work to manage issues.”

In the case of oil sands operations, 17 sites were shown to be using the product in question. Operators moved quickly to modify their pest control strategies, replacing the second-generation chemicals with less persistent rodenticides or alternative approaches.