ALBERTA

Cold Lake Bitumen Leak: Animal Rescuers In Edmonton To Help Soaked Oilsands Victims (VIDEO)

08/02/2013 02:18 EDT | Updated 08/09/2013 09:22 EDT

Experts from across the continent, armed with bottles of Dawn dish washing soap, have descended on Edmonton to rescue birds and animals soaked in leaking bitumen at an oilsands operation in northern Alberta.

Wildlife rescuers from the Oiled Wildlife Society of British Columbia, as well as Bird Rescue, have been hired on by Canadian Natural Resources Limited, after a leak at its Primrose operation inside CFB Cold Lake's air weapons range coated animals and birds in bitumen, the Edmonton Journal reports.

Workers set up a rescue centre in Edmonton and have already treated muskrats, ducks and a beaver, the Journal reports.

Just as the ads claim, rescuers used Dawn dish soap and a salon-quality sprayer in order to get the oily goo off the animals.

Bitumen can have catastrophic effects on the birds and small animals, ending up in their intestinal track or causing skin burns, Coleen Doucette with Oiled Wildlife Society of British Columbia, told Global News Edmonton.

"And one of the biggest problems with it is it completely disrupts the waterproofing,” she told Global.

Although not as dramatic an effect as poisoning or skin burns, loss of waterproofing may be one of the most significant problems the bitumen-covered animals face, she explained to CBC Edmonton.

“It allows the water to go through to the skin ... and they're no longer able to maintain their core body temperature,” she told CBC

“They become hypothermic and can die from that. Very quickly actually."

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Approximately 16 birds and 38 amphibians have died as a result of the leak, according to CNRL.

The company says the leak, which was caused by a mechanical malfunction in one of its wells, has been contained but continues to spew out 2,400 litres of bitumen each day.

CNRL uses high-pressure steam to force bitumen underground into wells dug in the oil field.

It takes anywhere from two to four days of constant care to rehabilitate an animal after being awash in bitumen, the Edmonton Sun reports.

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