Report concludes risk of a Trans Mt. spill is too high for struggling salmon populations

A new report concludes the risk of a diluted bitumen spill from the Trans Mountain pipeline project is too high for already struggling salmon populations in the Lower Fraser River.

Independent toxicologist Kate Logan co-authored the report with 2  Raincoast Conservation Foundation biologists.

She says a dilbit spill in the Fraser -- or in any of the almost 250 salmon-bearing streams the pipeline would cross -- has the potential to deliver a devastating blow:

" You know they face a lot of threats already to their survival -- habitat loss, pollution, and now climate change. And you know, a spill would have the potential to be pretty catastrophic  for some of the populations in the Fraser River."

The report outlines “serious deficiencies” with the company’s spill risk assessment when it comes to declining salmon stocks.  And Logan cautions against concluding we know enough about the behaviour of bitumen in the real world:

" It's hard to replicate the conditions that you're going to have in the real world in a lab, right?  It's hard to get tides, it's hard to get like a salt wedge coming up the river, it's hard to get the right amount of sediment, or the temperature, or the salinity -- any of those kinds of things. You can't get them all in a lab so it's really hard to cover all the bases in terms of the behaviour."

The report identifies how each species of salmon uses the river and its estuaries for migration, rearing and spawning.  Logan says with embryos, juveniles and adults present in the Fraser year round, there is no time when the risk of exposure to spilled oil could be considered low or acceptable.

" You know I think a lot of the other reports try to be a bit reassuring.  Whereas I think maybe this one is really trying to point out a lot of the uncertainties, and a lot of the unknowns around you know the fate and behaviour of spilled diluted bitumen, and the toxicity to various species and the toxicity with respect to food webs as well."

The report authors conclude the effect of a diluted bitumen spill on salmon populations was not adequately considered by Trans Mountain or the National Energy Board prior to the project's approval.

Raincoast Executive Director Chris Genovali says "If the government does build the Trans Mountain pipeline, it must do so knowing this decision clearly jeopardizes Canada's greatest salmon river and a fish considered the lifeblood of British Columbia."

Genovali adds the only viable precaution to this level of risk is to recognize the pipeline is more of a liability than an asset.

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