Trace elements in berries collected near upgraders and open pit mines in the Athabasca Bituminous Sands Region (ABSR): distinguishing atmospheric dust deposition from plant uptake

  • Author / Creator
    Stachiw, Samantha J
  • Bitumen mining and upgrading operations in the Athabasca Bituminous Sands Region (ABSR) may lead to increased concentrations of trace elements in the surrounding environment. Elevated concentrations of potentially toxic trace elements could pose a risk to local indigenous communities through the contamination of native berries that are an important part of their traditional diet. The objective of this study was to determine the magnitude of trace element enrichment in cranberries, lingonberries, and blueberries growing in the ABSR. To quantify the extent of enrichment, the same species of berries were also collected from remote areas, for comparison. The concentrations of 19 trace elements were measured using ICP-MS in the ultraclean metal-free SWAMP lab at the University of Alberta. Berries collected from the ABSR contain similar concentrations of Ba, Cd, Cu, Mn, Mo, Rb, Sr, and Zn compared to berries grown in remote locations (ie within a factor of two). In contrast, concentrations of Cr, Li, Pb, U, V, and Y were 2-24 times greater in ABSR berries compared to those grown in remote locations. The concentrations of these elements decreased after the berries were washed, suggesting that the trace elements were present in the form of dust. The presence of dust particles on the surface of the berries grown near open pit mines and upgraders was confirmed using SEM. In addition, the concentrations of Al, Cr, Pb, U, and V were strongly correlated with Y, a conservative, lithophile element which is not taken up by plants via their roots. Using Y as an indicator of the abundance of dust particles, we can distinguish between trace elements supplied primarily by aerial deposition of dust (e.g., Cr, Pb, V) from those that are primarily obtained by absorption through root uptake (e.g., Cu, Mn, Zn).

  • Subjects / Keywords
  • Graduation date
    Fall 2019
  • Type of Item
  • Degree
    Master of Science
  • DOI
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