Water, Air, & Soil Pollution

, Volume 216, Issue 1–4, pp 59–72 | Cite as

Growth and Physiological Responses of Triticum aestivum and Deschampsia caespitosa Exposed to Petroleum Coke

  • Colin Nakata
  • Clara Qualizza
  • Mike MacKinnon
  • Sylvie RenaultEmail author


Over the past decades, the global production of petroleum coke, a by-product of the oil sand industry, has increased with the growing importance of oil sands as a source of fossil fuels. A greenhouse study using Triticum aestivum and Deschampsia caespitosa was conducted to assess the growth and physiological effects of coke on plants. The plants were grown in cokes with or without a cap of peat–mineral mix and were compared to plants grown in a peat–mineral mix (control). Our results indicate that the selected plants can survive in coke; however, stress symptoms such as reductions in transpiration (45–91%) and stomatal conductance rates (44–92%) in T. aestivum, biomass in T. aestivum (5–83%) and D. caespitosa (43–90%), photosynthetic pigments in T. aestivum (32–68%) and D. caespitosa (33–44%) and proline concentrations in D. caespitosa (77–97%) were observed. Furthermore, potentially phytotoxic concentrations of nickel (47–69 μg g−1 in D. caespitosa) and vanadium (9.3–18.3 μg g−1 in T. aestivum and 4–27.8 μg g−1 in D. caespitosa) were found in some tissues while molybdenum accumulated in D. caespitosa shoots at concentrations reported, in other studies, to cause molybdenosis in ruminants. These results suggest that the plants growing in coke could experience multiple stresses including water stress, nutrient deficiencies and/or Ni and V toxicity. Capping coke with peat–mineral mix limited the stress symptoms and could improve revegetation success of coke impoundment sites. This study provides baseline data for future long-term field studies essential for developing coke management guidelines.


Petroleum coke Triticum aestivum Deschampsia caespitosa Plant stress 



The authors would like to thank Karen Kivinen, Carl Szczerski, Scott Green and Greg Morden for their technical assistance. We also would like to thank Wayne Tedder from Suncor Energy Inc. for providing petroleum coke and valuable input. Thanks to Dr. M. Sumner and the anonymous reviewers for providing critical reviews of the manuscript. Funding for this project was provided by Syncrude Canada Ltd., Suncor Energy Inc., Canadian Natural Resources Ltd. and the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  • Colin Nakata
    • 1
  • Clara Qualizza
    • 2
  • Mike MacKinnon
    • 3
  • Sylvie Renault
    • 1
    Email author
  1. 1.Department of Biological SciencesUniversity of ManitobaWinnipegCanada
  2. 2.Environmental CenterSyncrude Canada Ltd.Fort McMurrayCanada
  3. 3.Edmonton Research CenterSyncrude Canada Ltd.EdmontonCanada

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