DEPUTATION: WHEN's position on Tritium and its Risk to Our Drinking Water

In light of the plans for nuclear power expansion in Ontario and elsewhere, many millions of our tax dollars are to be spent to renew the nuclear industry with very little attention to the impacts of ionizing radiation, namely tritium (and other radionuclides) affecting the health of millions of citizens and the ecosystem.- WHEN's deputation to the Ontario Drinking Water Advisory Council (ODWAC) on Tritium, March 2008.

In the spring of 2008, WHEN’s Education and Outreach Coordinator, Dorothy Goldin Rosenberg, presented a deputation on behalf of the Women's Healthy Environments Network (WHEN) to the Ontario Drinking Water Advisory Council (ODWAC) on Tritium. Tritium is a known carcinogen, mutagen and teratogen (it crosses the placental barrier to cause harm) which is routinely released from CANDU reactor operations into the drinking water of millions of Ontarians and others.

In light of the plans for nuclear power expansion in Ontario and elsewhere, many millions of our tax dollars are to be spent to renew the nuclear industry with very little attention to the impacts of ionizing radiation, namely tritium (and other radionuclides) affecting the health of millions of citizens and the ecosystem. Our presentation to ODWAC elaborated on these points, referring to reports and studies that highlighted the need to protect, in particular, women, the developing fetus, growing children and young girls in puberty, from exposures to tritium, ideally at ANY dose.

The study, Environmental and Occupational Causes of Cancer: A Review of Recent Scientific Literature, [i] was cited in reference to the cancer risks to the general public from tritium. (This study lists several cancers and the chemicals/radiation they are related to [p. 10]). Of particular note in relation to tritium is the relationship of ionizing radiation to bladder, bone, brain, breast, colon, leukemia, liver, lung, multiple myeloma, nasal and nasopharynx, stomach and thyroid cancers.

It is now known that there is no safe dose of radiation and even the smallest dose can cause cancer and other health effects [ii] The government of Ontario should strive to eliminate risks to the environment and to the human health of the citizens of Ontario.

WHEN's RECOMMENDATIONS TO THE ODWAC

  • In light of people’s exposure to the cumulative effects of numerous of chemicals and radionuclides and the synergies they combine to produce, WHEN recommends more stringent standards immediately. Lower limits are achievable. And it is sensible, at least for now, to use an approach similar to that used for chemicals to determine "acceptable" levels of risk, an approach called for by the Advisory Committee on Environmental Standards (ACES) in 1994. Unfortunately there is now much catching up to do, as the current Ontario Drinking Water Objective for Tritium of 7,000 Becquerel per litre (Bq/L) is considerably higher than ACES’s recommendations then of immediate adoption of a 100 Bq/L standard, reduced to 20 Bq/L within five years, were ignored by the government of the day due to pressure from the nuclear industry and has remained ignored to date.
  • Ontario needs to join other leading jurisdictions in the world which have more stringent standards - the EU Tritium in water Standard is 100 Bq/L, California is at 15 Bq/L and Colorado, 18 Bq/L. Moreover, it is of great significance that Ontario Power Generation (OPG) has stated in their ISO 140001 QA documents that 100Bq/l is now an achievable standard for Tritium in water and therefore the reduction of 7,000 Bq/L to the federally proposed 3,000 Bq/L should not be acceptable. Therefore the ACES recommendation of 100 Bq/L to 20Bq/L within five years is the largest standard we can agree to at this time.
  • Because of the now widely available evidence presented on health impacts, WHEN recommended that ODWAC urge the Ontario government to adopt the Precautionary Principle in its recommendations to them. If it is to err at all, the committee should err on the side of caution when assessing the hazards of Tritium emissions and should, at the start, reiterate the recommendations of the Advisory Council on Environmental Standards (ACES) on Tritium. Thus, WHEN recommends that ODWAC advocate a decrease in tritium standards from the current 7,000 Bq/L to 100 Bq/L and then to 20 Bq/L within five years as recommended by ACES, with the goal of zero discharge in ten years.
  • WHEN endorsed the energy framework, principles and recommendations of the letter by Dr. David McKeown, MDCM, MHSc, FRCPC, Toronto Medial Officer of Health to Premier Dalton McGuinty regarding the Ontario Power Authority’s Supply Mix [iii]. Dr. McKeown calls for a sustainable energy strategy for the province composed of a combination of measures, in the following order of priority: demand management (energy efficiency and conservation) approaches and supply from low-impact ecologically sustainable renewable sources rather than by nuclear energy.”
  • WHEN concurred with recommendations contained in the Pembina/CELA Report [iv], that nuclear power plants be phased out by 2020 stopping all such releases.

Reference

[i]Richard Clapp, Genevieve Howe, Molly Jacobs. Environmental and Occupational Causes of Cancer: A Review of Recent Scientific Literature Boston University, School of Public Health and Environmental Health Initiative, University of Massachusetts, Lowell, September, 2005.

[ii]Biological Effects of Ionizing Radiation Vll -- BEIR VllE National Academy of Sciences, 2005, http://www.nuclearactive.org/news/070605.html

[iii]Dr. David McKeown, MDCM, MHSc, FRCPCOntario Power Authority's Supply Mix: Advice Report December 2005 EBR #PO05E0001; Feb 3, 2006

[iii]Pembina Institute and Centre for Environmental Law and Policy (CELA) Power for the Future Towards a Sustainable Electricity System for Ontario www.cela.ca, www.pembina.org