University of Calgary

Institute of Environmental Toxicology (IET)

December 21, 2010

New institute examines pollutants from water and land

By Leanne Yohemas

Dr. Hamid Habibi is the director of the new Institute of Environmental Toxicology. Photo credit: Riley BrandtDr. Hamid Habibi is the director of the new Institute of Environmental Toxicology. Photo credit: Riley BrandtIt’s easy to take for granted the water we drink. But what’s in our glass and lurking on our land isn’t as pure as we may think. The University of Calgary has created a new institute dedicated to researching the impact of harmful chemicals in our environment.

The Institute of Environmental Toxicology (IET) brings together engineers and biologists from a variety of disciplines, industries, institutes and levels of government to develop new and improved technologies for effective risk assessment and remediation of contaminated sites. Investigators in the U of C’s medicine and veterinary medicine faculties are also players in IET.

“We want to exploit advanced techniques and novel approaches to address an urgent need in Canada, and globally to ensure an environment free of harmful chemicals,” says the institute’s director Dr. Hamid Habibi, professor in the biological sciences department at the U of C.

IET will study the nature, fate and persistence of chemicals in the environment as well as remediation of terrestrial and aquatic contamination activities.

“The causes of contamination are wide ranging,” Habibi adds. “They could include pollutants released from wastewater treatment plants and landfills, such as plasticizers, surfactants, flame-retardants, drugs, personal care and industrial products. In addition, there are heavy metals or other toxins resulting from mining activities and electronics consumerism, agricultural runoff, oil sands operations and tailing ponds.”

IET is a multi-disciplinary team which will include biologists and engineers from the U of C, University of Lethbridge and University of Alberta as well as scientists in municipal and federal laboratories. The City of Calgary is one of the main partners and is closely involved in a joint initiative with the U of C at the city’s Pine Creek Wastewater Treatment Centre. The research facility called ACWA (Advancing Canadian Wastewater Assets) will be the only place in the world where research on “natural” stream systems is integrated with treatment technology in a controlled environment.

“We want our research to help provide decision makers and the public with scientific information on the nature and magnitude of environment contaminants and offer some solutions to address this important global challenge,” says Dr. Alice Hontela, Canada Research Chair in Ecotoxicology at the University of Lethbridge.


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