Isotopic Analyses Fingerprint Sources of Polycyclic Aromatic Compound-Bearing Dust in Athabasca Oil Sands Region Snowpack

Fugitive dust associated with surface mining activities is one of the principal vectors for transport of airborne contaminants in Canada’s Athabasca oil sands region (AOSR). Effective environmental management requires quantitative identification of the sources of this dust. Using natural abundance radiocarbon (Δ14C) and dual (δ13C, δ2H) compound-specific isotope analysis (CSIA), this study investigated the sources of dust and particulate-bound polycyclic aromatic compounds (PACs) deposited in AOSR lake snowpack. Lower Δ14C values, higher particulate and PAC loadings, and lower δ13C values for phenanthrene and C1-alkylated phenanthrenes/anthracenes (C1-Phen) at sites closer to the mining operations indicated unprocessed oil sand and/or petroleum coke (petcoke–a byproduct of bitumen upgrading) as major sources of anthropogenic fugitive dust. However, a Bayesian isotopic mixing model that incorporated both δ13C and δ2H could discriminate petcoke from oil sand, and determined that petcoke comprised between 44 and 95% (95% credibility intervals) of a C1-Phen isomer at lakes <25 km from the heart of the mining operations, making it by far the most abundant source. This study is the first to demonstrate the potential of CSIA to provide accurate PAC source apportionment in snowpack and reveals that petcoke rather than oil sand is the main source of mining-related particulate PACs deposited directly to AOSR lakes.

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Field Value
Short Name of Publication Isotopic Fingerprint Sources of Polycyclic Aromatic Compound Dust in Athabasca Oil Sands Snowpack
Deliverable Type Journal article
Program Catagory Air
Program Type Provincial
Author Ahad, J.M.E., Pakdel, H., Labarre, T., Cooke, C.A., Gammon, P.R., and Savard, M.M.
Periodical Title Environmental Science & Technology
Year of Publication 2021
Publishing Organization
Month of Publication April
Periodical Volumes
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Digital Object Identifier (DOI)
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