In Vitro Cellular & Developmental Biology - Animal

, Volume 49, Issue 1, pp 52-65

First online:

Rapid assessment of the toxicity of oil sands process-affected waters using fish cell lines

  • Bryan SansomAffiliated withDepartment of Biology, Wilfrid Laurier UniversityDepartment of Biology, University of Waterlo
  • , Nguyen T. K. VoAffiliated withDepartment of Biology, Wilfrid Laurier University
  • , Richard KavanaghAffiliated withDepartment of Integrative Biology, University of Guelph
  • , Robert HannerAffiliated withDepartment of Integrative Biology, University of Guelph
  • , Michael MacKinnonAffiliated withOSPM Solutions
  • , D. George DixonAffiliated withDepartment of Biology, University of Waterlo
  • , Lucy E. J. LeeAffiliated withDepartment of Biology, Wilfrid Laurier UniversityFaculty of Science, University of the Fraser Valley Email author 

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Rapid and reliable toxicity assessment of oil sands process-affected waters (OSPW) is needed to support oil sands reclamation projects. Conventional toxicity tests using whole animals are relatively slow, costly, and often subjective, while at the same time requiring the sacrifice of test organisms as is the case with lethal dosage/concentration assays. A nonlethal alternative, using fish cell lines, has been developed for its potential use in supporting oil sands reclamation planning and to help predict the viability of aquatic reclamation models such as end-pit lakes. This study employed six fish cell lines (WF-2, GFSk-S1, RTL-W1, RTgill-W1, FHML, FHMT) in 24 h viability assays for rapid fluorometric assessment of cellular integrity and functionality. Forty-nine test water samples collected from the surface of oil sands developments in the Athabasca Oil Sands deposit, north of Fort McMurray, Alberta, Canada, were evaluated in blind. Small subsample volumes (8 ml) were mixed with 2 ml of 5× concentrated exposure media and used for direct cell exposures. All cell line responses in terms of viability as measured by Alamar blue assay, correlated well with the naphthenic acids (NA) content in the samples (R 2 between 0.4519 and 0.6171; p < 0.0001) when data comparisons were performed after the bioassays. NA or total acid-extractable organics group has been shown to be responsible for most of the acute toxicity of OSPW and our results further corroborate this. The multifish cell line bioassay provides a strong degree of reproducibility among tested cell lines and good relative sensitivity of the cell line bioassay as compared to available in vivo data that could lead to cost effective, high-throughput screening assays.


Fish cell lines Toxicity Naphthenic acids Alamar blue Oil sands