Understanding the potential impact of rare earth elements in aquatic systems in the NWT
Principal Investigator: McGeer, Jim (4)
Licence Number: 15944
Organization: Wilfrid Laurier University
Licenced Year(s): 2016 2015 2014
Issued: Aug 11, 2016
Project Team: Alexandria Loveridge (student researcher, Wilfrid Laurier University), Jonathan Ford (student researcher, Wilfrid Laurier University), Dr. Andrea Lister (Research scientist , Wilfrid Laurier University)

Objective(s): To evaluate the relative sensitivity of northern aquatic invertebrates and northern ecosystems in comparison to southern species and environments.

Project Description: The objectives of this research are to evaluate the relative sensitivity of northern aquatic invertebrates and northern ecosystems in comparison to southern species and environments. The focus of comparisons is in relation to the toxicity of rare earth elements.

Approximately 3 to 5 sites will be chosen for detailed samplings and examples could include (Pontoon Lake, Trappers Lake and Tibbitt Lake).
1. Water samples of approximately 0.5 L will be collected in pre-cleaned bottles for water quality measurements (e.g. pH, dissolved organic matter, conductivity, hardness, phosphate, sulphate, chloride, turbidity, Cu, and etc.). Collections could be done at 15 to 20 sites in order to identify a subset of locations where more detailed sampling would be done (as in 2 and 3 below).
2. Samples of aquatic invertebrates will be collected from shoreline vegetation and shallow substrates. The sampling method will be similar to those used for environmental monitoring, standard "kick-and-sweep" using 450 micron D shaped nets. Sampling is expected to be less disruptive than standard environmental monitoring as the area covered will be smaller, a few square meters at most. Biota sampled will be sorted on the shore to identify daphnids and amphipods which will be saved and the other organisms returned to their environment. The saved organisms will be transported to the lab at Laurier for subsequent detailed identification, culture and side by side testing with southern species in order to compare sensitivities to rare earth elements.
3. Sites rich in dissolved organic matter (dark, "tea" coloured waters) will be sampled in order to collect and characterize the organic matter. In these collections a small submersible pump, a portable reverse osmosis (RO) system and a small generator are used. Water is drawn from the local source and passed through the RO system where the organic matter is separated from the water. Typically 250 L of water is filtered under pressure to produce 5 L of concentrated organic matter. The 245 L of pure water is unchanged (no additives or chemicals are used) and is returned to the source. The 5 L of concentrated organic matter will be refrigerated and taken to the lab for detailed characterization. Organic matter has many important functions within aquatic ecosystems and our work on southern environments demonstrates that different sources can have very unique properties. The research team is very interested to compare these with northern organic matter sources. The generator and RO systems limit sampling sites to those accessible by road and often they can stay on the truck. If sites are chosen where it is necessary to bring the generator and equipment onto the ground a plastic tarp will be used under the generator to contain any spills (e.g. when filling the tank with gas).

This project is focused on learning about the potential impact of rare earth elements to sensitive aquatic organisms in northern environments. Currently there are very few studies on the toxicity of these elements but there is growing activity to develop mines, particularly in the north (e.g. the Avalon Rare Metals Inc development at Thor Lake as well as in Quebec and N. Ontario). Most of the research activities for this project are lab studies (as required by environmental regulators) but the research team is also very interested in the unique nature of northern ecosystems and how these differ from southern Canadian environments. Most of the data generated to derive Canadian Water Quality Guidelines is done in southern waters with southern species and whether (how well) Guidelines are relevant in northern waters if the goal. The research licence is to allow collection of aquatic samples and representative invertebrate organisms (amphipods and daphnia) from NWT sites and these would be then grown in lab conditions and tested alongside southern species. Understanding the relative sensitivity of northern organisms and environments will have general application beyond rare earth elements. There are no educational components in the research program but we would be pleased to discuss research findings at any time.

Opportunities to present finding at workshop will be developed through science activities. Results are also reported annually to Environment Canada as part of their funding agreement and these could be made available to those interested. Publications and graduate theses will be available online via Wilfrid Laurier University.

The fieldwork for this study will be conducted from August 11, 2016 to October 31, 2016.