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Provincial government should release snowpack contamination data, say experts, advocates


A government report released in November showed Window Mountain Lake had been contaminated with coal dust from B.C.'s Elk Valley Mines.

The lake, which sits north of the Crowsnest Pass, was as polluted as bodies of water downwind from the oil sands.

It's only accessible by foot and is not connected to any coal mining areas by other bodies of water.

"All of these contaminants, or most of them, are coming from the coal mining. Likely in the form of dust that is basically getting carried by the wind over the mountains and then falling on the landscapes," said Bill Donahue, a former Alberta Environment and Protected Areas scientist.

Samples of the snowpack in the area were also taken, although the results have yet to be published or released by the province.

If the snowpack around the area of Window Mountain Lake is indeed contaminated with coal dust, it could pose health problems not only for southern Albertans.

Coal dust can spread to a wide area through wind and waterways.

It also doesn't dissipate, rather the contaminants build up over time.

"If they're allowed to accumulate in the snowpack, once that snow melts they enter fresh water systems like rivers and streams. Of course, the flowing water will transport the contaminants to other water bodies," said Greg Pyle, professor of biological sciences with the University of Lethbridge.

With the potentially contaminated snowpack looming over southern Alberta, calls are being made to release the data taken from the snowpack.

Shannon Phillips, former environment minister and current Lethbridge-West MLA, says transparency was one of her main commitments when the portfolio was hers.

But she believes the current government suffers from a lack of transparency.

"Clearly, this government has an agenda to hide information from the public. In particular to do with the effects of metallurgical coal mining," Phillips said.

Donahue points to a culture of fear within Alberta Environment and Protected Areas when it comes to releasing new data.

"Not necessarily only politically, but there's a culture in Alberta Environment that is very nervous and/or annoyed by environmental science and scientists. It's a cost they don't like – it usually results in information they don't want to hear," he said.

In a statement, the government of Alberta said:

"Alberta Environment and Protected Areas plans to conduct additional lake sediment core and snowpack sampling in the spring and summer to supplement the initial work done by the Alberta government in this study."

The statement did not give a time table for when the data would be released. Top Stories

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