Even after ending up in clean water, the survival of salmon hatchlings exposed to diluted bitumen is at risk.
That’s according to a University of Guelph study that exposed eggs from sockeye salmon to three different levels of diluted bitumen, while a fourth group was unexposed.
Post-doctorate researcher Sarah Alderman said nearly 50 per cent of the young salmon exposed to the different bitumen levels died within two months.
Alderman says many of the survivors had increases in deformities and growth changes after being moved to clean water and observed for eight months.
The study comes as the federal government weighs its options to have the Trans Mountain pipeline built following a federal court ruling that halted construction Aug. 30.
The appeals court ruled the energy board and federal cabinet both failed to assess the impacts of increased tanker traffic on the marine environment and particularly the endangered southern resident killer whales.
The decision also said the federal government failed to engage in meaningful consultations with First Nations before approving the project.
Alderman says the study provides more of an understanding of what to expect in case there is a diluted bitumen spill.
The Trans Mountain project would double the existing line from Alberta to the B.C. coast and would triple the amount of oil shipped between terminals, allowing producers to sell to Pacific Rim markets and fetch a better price.
The B.C. government, some First Nations and environmental groups have dug in their heels opposing the project because of environmental concerns.
Alderman says Canada must work to minimize the risks of oil pipeline pollution to salmon populations.