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Quebec Bulletin
December 2014 - January 2015/Volume 17/Number 6

Funding for University Studies on the Effects of Contaminants


Fisheries and Oceans Canada, along with its National Contaminants Advisory Group, recently announced three grants to Quebec researchers totalling $687,000. An invitation was sent out to Canadian universities this past spring to study the biological effects of contaminants on aquatic species. The Department has committed to investing $2,450,000 in 12 related research projects across the country over three years.

Fish and pesticides

A three-year (2014-2017) grant of slightly over $230,000 has been awarded to develop diagnostic tools (biomarkers) for fish exposed to pesticides. This project, led by Professor Monique Boily from the Université du Québec à Montréal's Department of Biological Sciences, focuses on those rivers in the south-western region of Quebec that flow through highly farmed areas and carry pesticides to Saint-Pierre Lake.

With this grant, researchers will be able to continue the sampling work begun in 2013 to explore the causes of the decline in the perch population. The results will give managers a better understanding of how to protect the environment and aquatic resources.

This research will be conducted in collaboration with the Ministère des Forêts, de la Faune et des Parcs du Québec, Environment Canada, the Ministère du Développement durable, de l'Environnement et de la Lutte contre les changements climatiques, the Centre d'expertise en analyse environnementale du Québec, the Centre de recherche en toxicologie de l’environnement and the Université du Québec à Trois-Rivières.

Developing diagnostic tools (biomarkers) for fish exposed to pesticides

Flame retardants and marine mammals

Professor Jonathan Verreault from the Université du Québec à Montréal's Department of Biological Sciences, has received a $181,000, three-year (2014-2017) grant. He will carry out a project on bioaccumulation and the biological effects of polybrominated diphenyl ether and emerging priority flame retardants on two marine mammal species found in the St. Lawrence Estuary. This project, carried out in collaboration with university and government researchers and non-profit organizations, involves analyzing liver and fat tissue samples from beluga and minke whales in the St. Lawrence Estuary, to check for the presence of halogenated flame retardants and to study their biological effects.

This project will make it possible to develop detection tools that can then be used by researchers interested in marine mammals. The results will also provide relevant information to polivy makers responsible for protecting marine ecosystems exposed to environmental contamination.

Bioaccumulation and biological effects of polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs) and priority emerging flame retardants in two marine mammal species from the St. Lawrence Estuary

What is a flame retardant?

Flame retardants are compounds added to a wide variety of consumer products (e.g. plastics, fabrics, upholstered furniture and electronic devices) to, as their name suggests, delay the spread of flames in case of fire. They adhere to particles and spread throughout their immediate environment. They are then washed away by rain and snow and make their way to waste water and sewage treatment systems, where they cannot be eliminated.

Impact of oil spills in winter conditions

Professor Richard Saint-Louis, from the Department of Biology, Chemistry and Geography at the Université du Québec à Rimouski (UQAR), received a $276,000, three-year (2014-2017) grant to assess the toxic effects of conventional and unconventional crude oil on the blue mussel after a spill under ice cover.

Few scientific studies exist on the biological effects of contaminants on aquatic wildlife in the winter. More extensive knowledge of the consequences an oil spill has on ecosystems is necessary, given the increase in marine traffic related to the transportation of contaminants, such as oil. This research will produce significant scientific findings. This work will be carried out at the aquaculture station at the Institut des sciences de la mer de Rimouski (ISMER). The research team is made up of five professors from UQAR-ISMER.

Assessment of the toxic effects on the blue mussel of conventional and unconventional crude oil after a spill under ice cover

Why choose the mussel?

The mussel was chosen as the model species given its economic importance in Canada, its significance in the traditional diet of coastal populations, the part it plays in the marine ecosystem and its wide geographic range. Three petroleum products will be studied as part of this research project: conventional crude oil and two types of unconventional crude oil from the oil sands. An oil spill under ice cover in a coastal area means chronic pollution for mussels, because as long as the ice cover remains intact, it limits the dispersion and degradation of the oil slick.

Judith Leblanc
National Contaminants Advisory Group

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