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Ecotoxicol Environ Saf. 2006 Mar;63(3):365-77. Epub 2005 Jun 17.

Gill and liver histopathological changes in yellow perch (Perca flavescens) and goldfish (Carassius auratus) exposed to oil sands process-affected water.

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  • 1Department of Biology, University of Waterloo, Waterloo, Ontario, Canada N2L 3G1.


The extraction of bitumen from the Athabasca oil sands (Alberta, Canada) produces significant volumes of process-affected water containing elevated levels of naphthenic acids (NAs), ions, and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs). The sublethal response of aquatic organisms exposed to oil sands constituents in experimental aquatic environments that represent possible reclamation options has been studied. In this study, the effects of process-affected waters on gill and liver tissues in yellow perch (Perca flavescens) and caged goldfish (Carassius auratus) held in several reclamation ponds at Syncrude's Mildred Lake site have been assessed. Following a 3-week exposure, significant gill (epithelial cell necrosis, mucous cell proliferation) and liver (hepatocellular degeneration, inflammatory cell infiltration) histopathological changes were noted in fish held in waters containing high levels of oil sands process-affected water. In addition, measurements of gill dimensions (gill morphometrical indices) proved sensitive and provided evidence of a physiological disturbance (gas exchange) with exposure to oil sands materials. Due to the complexity of oil sands process-affected water, the cause of the alterations could not be attributed to specific oil sands constituents. However, the histopathological parameters were strong indicators of exposure to oil sands process-affected water and morphometrical data were sensitive indicators of pathological response, which can be used to identify the interactive effects of ionic content, NAs, and PAHs in future laboratory studies.

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