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CBU Industrial Research Chair Looking At Mine Wastewater

Research varies, even for one scientist

SYDNEY — From the dangers of fish on drugs to the joys of mine wastewater effluent, Ken Oakes has undertaken a wide variety of research projects in his career.

Oakes is the industrial research chair in environmental remediation at Cape Breton University’s Verschuren Centre. He came to CBU in January. His previous research has included a look at how pharmaceuticals and the remainders of personal care products like perfumes and deodorants in the water can harm organisms by showing up in their tissue and provoking responses that aren’t normal. For example, the presence of birth control pills in water is being blamed for the feminization of male fish.

“It’s not like these things just disappear,” says Oakes. “Ultimately, we see them again in fish, within in the fish tissue — it shows up in the receptors of fish and cause responses. It may show up in the drinking water and it may not have an impact on fish, or on people, but it shows up in concentrations of the drinking water.”

Oakes says it’s less relevant for Cape Breton since it is a less populated area. So, he’s embarked on a new area of research that will have a lot of meaning for an area loaded with old mines.

“I am looking at the mine wastewater effluent now and how the mine shafts fill up after the coal operations have ceased,” says Oakes. “They’re slowly filling up with water to the point where they’re actually above the water level and then discharging into the environment. ECBC has done a lot of work to put in some active and passive treatment systems to correct this problem and we’re just looking to add on to what they’re already doing.”

The research will be long-term with sampling every month for a number of years to see if there’s any difference in the chemistry of these environments and any changes to the fish community composition.

Since these mine shafts will keep filling with water, Oakes says finding a way to clean up the water and then using it would work well for everyone, including the environment.

“Some local investors might be interested in tapping into that water for geothermal purposes.”