Research, Wildlife and Landscape Science

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Industrial Effluents

Photo of industrial water disposal | Photo: Photos.comIndustrial effluents are any wastewaters generated by industries such as pulp and paper, mining, or municipal wastewater, which are then typically treated and released into surface waters. If not treated properly, these can pose harmful effects to wildlife and contravene legislation designed to protect the health of wildlife and aquatic ecosystems.

The pollution prevention sections of the Fisheries Act in Canada expressly prohibit the discharge of a deleterious substance into waters frequented by fish, except when permitted as a controlled release through a regulation under the Act. The intent of this prohibition is to protect fish, fish habitat and fisheries resources.

Wildlife and landscape researchers in the Biological Assessment and Standardization Section (BASS) develop test methodologies to identify at what level industrial effluents become harmful and lethal to various species. These tests help industries ensure their activities are compliant with Canadian regulations.

These methods are used to protect against discharged effluents that contain unidentified, immeasurable and/or non-regulated contaminants, individually or in combination, such as, metals, ammonia, surfactants, highly acidic substances, resin acids, and chlorinated organics.

Researchers have developed and standardized toxicity test methods using rainbow trout (EPS 1/RM/13) and Daphnia magna (EPS 1/RM/14). These are the key compliance tools used for the Pulp and Paper Effluent Regulations (PPER) and Metal Mining Effluent Regulations (MMER) under the Fisheries Act.

Under these regulations, an effluent has failed to meet the compliance limit if more than 50% of the test organisms die in a full strength, undiluted sample using EPS 1/RM/13, the Environment Canada reference method for rainbow trout.

Image of industrial effluent discharge point | Photo: Environment CanadaThis, and other biological test methods, are useful compliance tools because they are relatively simple to conduct, scientifically defensible and easily understood by the courts, citizens, and industry.

Most recently, in March 2010, the Wastewater Systems Effluent Regulations were drafted in Canada Gazette Part I. These regulations, once finalized, will govern the deposit of sewage treatment plant effluents and will include monitoring and compliance requirements for acute lethality with rainbow trout (EPS 1/RM/13) and the possible use of a pH stabilization method as an add-on procedure during fish acute lethality testing (EPS 1/RM/50).

A series of sub-lethal toxicity methods using freshwater and marine test organisms have been developed and standardized for use to estimate the effects of effluents under the Environmental Effects Monitoring component of the PPER and MMER regulations.

Image of fathead minnow, a species used in industrial effluent testing | Photo: Environment CanadaThese methods use organisms that can exhibit effects on growth and reproduction from contaminants present at much lower effluent concentrations than those required to cause lethality.

Current research activities include:

  • Development of a standard method measuring short- and long-term reproductive effects in fathead minnows, such as egg production and hatchability
  • Using toxicogenomics to detect effects, such as the up or down regulation of genes in response to effluent exposure
  • Modification of the standard toxicity test using the sediment dwelling amphipod Hyalella azteca (EPS 1/RM/33) to include a water-only exposure that will isolate the effects from current effluent quality and historically contaminated sediments
  • Updating the fertilization test using Echinoids (sea urchins and sand dollars) and releasing the second edition of EPS 1/RM/27

Experts in industrial effluents

Further reading