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Responses of Wild Fish to a Controlled Spill of Diluted Bitumen in Enclosures Deployed in a Boreal Lake at the International Institute for Sustainable Development-Experimental Lake Area (IISD-ELA), Northwestern Ontario


Considerable research has examined the behaviour of oil spills in marine environments; however there is little information about the potential impacts of a spill on freshwater lakes, as well as the recovery rates in the aquatic environment. To address this knowledge gap, the National Contaminants Advisory Group (NCAG) is funding research into the potential short- and long-term impacts of diluted bitumen (dilbit)Footnote 1 on resident larval fish (e.g., Fathead Minnow) in a freshwater ecosystem. Impacts will be assessed at the molecular level.

The NCAG study will complement, and be carried out in conjunction with, a large collaborative study funded by a Strategic Partnership Grant from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC). That project involves controlled dilbit spill studies at the IISD-Experimental Lakes Area in Northwestern Ontario. The project will examine the fate, physical and chemical transformation, and effects of diluted bitumen in a series of eight enclosures in a natural boreal lake ecosystem. The multi-faceted research will also explore, among other things, dilbit toxicity and the response of aquatic organisms to the controlled spill. The study will use Cold Lake Blend dilbit since it is commonly one of the highest volume diluted bitumen products shipped in Canada. Conducting the NCAG research in conjunction with the NSERC study will enable researchers to learn more about the toxicity of dilbit to fish in a real-world spill scenario. The four-year research project will be the first to characterize a dilbit spill and its recovery in the Canadian environment, providing invaluable information to first-responders and policymakers in the event of a spill affecting freshwater lakes in Canada.

Program Name

National Contaminants Advisory Group (NCAG)


2017 - 2021



Principal Investigator(s)

Dr. Valérie Langlois (PI)
Associate Professor
Institut national de la recherche scientifique, Centre - Eau Terre Environnement (INRS-ETE) (QC)

Dr. Vince Palace (co-PI)
Head Research Scientist
IISD-Experimental Lakes Area

Cooler setup for Fat Head Minnow exposure

Cooler setup for Fat Head Minnow exposure

Cooling system used during the exposure

Cooling system used during the exposure

Fat Head Minnows under breeding tiles in bioassay units

Fat Head Minnows under breeding tiles in bioassay units

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