LETHBRIDGE: How to marry industrial development and a healthy environment is one of the big questions behind a new partnership between Alberta's three universities.
The Institute of Environmental Toxicology encourages researchers across the province to share their findings on water pollution.
Included in the project will be experiments from a new million-dollar fish lab at the U of L, which could have a vital role to play in protecting Alberta's watershed.
The state-of-the-art facility has special tanks and artificial streams that help researchers study the effects of chemicals and pesticides on fish populations.
Researcher Alice Hontela says since fish have reproductive systems similar to humans, they act as a kind of 'canary in the mine' to signal which materials could be harmful to human health.
And that means these studies could affect water protection now, and in years to come.
"We do research to find solutions to problems that we have today. But at the university, we have a very unique role," she says. "And that is to train students so they can be ready to solve problems in the future."
Hontela says the kind of sharing that will take place among members of the new institute will increase the chance they are successful in solving some of those problems.
"Environmental toxicology is a complex field, where we need expertise in physiology, chemistry, hydrology - and no one expert knows it all," says Hontela. "So by being part of an institute, we get to benefit from the expertise of the other members."
One of the first experiments in the new lab is run by a Master's student, who is studying how a chemical produced in coal mining affects swimming ability in trout.
Photo by Country 95 News: Dr. Alice Hontela, a Canadian Research Chair in Ecotoxicology, runs a test in front of rows of climate controlled precision-operated fish tanks. It's equipment like this that makes this facility the first of its kind in Alberta.