Keep Tritium out of Ontario's Drinking Water

Sierra Club Canada
2009-06-10

Ottawa – Sierra Club Canada urges the Ontario government to implement more stringent water quality standards, to keep radioactive tritium out of drinking water.  A recent report from the Ontario Drinking Water Advisory Council (ODWAC) recommends moving from the current dangerously high limit of 7,000 becquerels per litre to an annual average of 20 becquerels per litre.

“The Ontario Drinking Water Advisory Council warns us that the current limit of 7,000 becquerels per litre is far too high,” said Mike Buckthought of Sierra Club Canada.  “We urge the Ontario government to strengthen water quality standards, to keep radioactive tritium out of our drinking water.”

Contamination of drinking water with radioactive tritium is a major concern for communities near nuclear reactors.  After incidents at Chalk River in 2007, levels reached 30 becquerels per litre in Ottawa’s drinking water – two times the California guideline of 15 becquerels per litre.

ODWAC’s recommendation to move to an annual average of 20 becquerels per litre is an important step in the right direction, but should be strengthened.  Rather than using an annual average, which allows for spikes in contamination, a firm limit should be used to ensure that tritium levels do not exceed a certain level.  The limit should be closer to background levels of tritium.  In isolated lakes and rivers, tritium levels are around 2 becquerels per litre, and levels were lower before the nuclear age.

“With more stringent standards for tritium in Ontario’s drinking water, we can prevent many cancers and birth defects. Over time, we can get tritium concentrations down to background levels found before the nuclear age,” said Buckthought.

Canada’s nuclear reactors routinely release radioactive tritium into the atmosphere, lakes and rivers. All radiation releases increase risks of cancer and birth defects.  Tritium is dangerous because it bonds with oxygen to create radioactive water.  It can move as water into any cell in the body and accumulate in DNA, where it does its damage from close range.

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For more information, contact:
Mike Buckthought, Sierra Club Canada, 613-241-4611 x235

            

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