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The toxicity and molecular effects of mechanically- and chemically-dispersed diluted bitumen (dilbit) to Eastern Canadian fish species


The development of pipeline projects across Canada is expected to expand shipments of diluted bitumen (dilbit) through vital freshwater and marine watersheds containing economically-important fish species. Futhermore, the expanding deep-water oil exploration and development off Canada’s east coast, and the potential sub-surface application of dispersants in the event of a blow-out, raise important questions about risks to commercially-important offshore species. Fish embryos are sensitive bioindicators of the potential effects of oil spills on fishery resources due to their heightened susceptibility during early development and their inability to avoid environmental contaminants.

This research will assess the characterization of dilbit toxicity to several Eastern Canadian fish species of ecological, economic, and cultural relevance from both marine and freshwater ecosystems (e.g., mummichog (Fundulus heteroclitus), Atlantic herring (Clupea harengus), Atlantic cod (Gadus morhua), and/or yellow perch (Perca flavescans). The research will investigate the potential impacts of chemical dispersants on the swim bladder of larval fish; assess the status of cellular stress in fish exposed to dilbit; and, develop other relevant and sensitive biomarkers of exposure of dilbit on selected fish species.

This research will inform Fisheries and Oceans Canada of the potential toxicity effects of dilbit and will develop relevant biomarkers of exposure and effects of chemical dispersants, as well as chemically and physically-dispersed petroleum products to Eastern Canadian fish.

Program Name

National Contaminants Advisory Group (NCAG)


2015 - 2017


Atlantic: Gulf of St. Lawrence, St. Lawrence Estuary

Principal Investigator(s)

Valérie Langlois
School of Environmental Studies, Queen’s University (Ontario)

Peter Hodson
School of Environmental Studies, Queen’s University (Ontario)

Team Member(s)

Dr. Barry Madison, (Postdoctoral Fellow), Queen’s University (Ontario)

Sarah Wallace, (Lab Manager), Queen’s University (Ontario)

Christina Emerton, (Research Assistant), Queen’s University (Ontario)

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