Toxicity of uranium mine receiving waters to early life stage fathead minnows (Pimephales promelas) in the laboratory


Elevated concentrations of arsenic, nickel, and molybdenum in aquatic systems around northern Saskatchewan uranium mines are an environmental concern. Early life stage fathead minnows were used to assess toxicity from several aquatic systems near the Key Lake and Rabbit Lake uranium operations. Hatching success of fish embryos exposed to waters receiving contaminants associated with uranium ore milling was reduced by 32-61% relative to controls. Mortality differed in two lakes receiving mill effluents because of opposing factors influencing metal toxicity (i.e. low pH and high hardness). In one mill receiving water (Fox Lake), larval mortality was 0%, whereas mortality was 85% in water collected from a downstream location (Unknown Lake). Fish embryos exposed to open-pit dewatering effluent receiving waters, or water from a flooded open pit (i.e. pit waters), hatched 26-39% earlier than those exposed to reference or control water. The combination of low water hardness and elevated nickel concentrations in pit waters contributed to the early hatching. Egg hatchability and hatching time were more sensitive indicators of toxicity than 'standard' endpoints, like larval mortality and growth. Current regulatory emphasis on single contaminants and standard toxicological endpoints should be re- evaluated in light of the complex interaction among confounding variables such as pH, hardness. conductivity, and multi-metal mixtures.


Record Number: 1702Department of Biology, Laurentian University, Sudbury, ON, Canada. gpyle@nickel.laurentian.ca0269-7491