Radioactive chemicals in Great Lakes need special designation, groups say

TORONTO -- The tracking of dangerous radioactive substances in the Great Lakes basin is woefully inadequate given the intensive nuclear activity in the area, environmental and health groups say.

See Full Article

In a letter to the Canadian and U.S. governments on Wednesday, more than 100 organizations called for such substances to be designated as "chemicals of mutual concern."

Such a designation -- recognition that radionuclides are potentially harmful to human health or the environment -- would require governments to develop a strategy for dealing with them with a view to keeping them out of the lakes.

"Radionuclides can have very serious immediate, long-term and intergenerational effects on human and non-human health," the letter states. "There is no level of radionuclides below which exposure can be defined as 'safe'."

Chemicals such as uranium or plutonium -- which can remain toxic for eons -- can cause cancer, birth defects and genetic mutations in both people and animals. Yet despite a surprising amount of activity involving the substances on or near the Great Lakes, a report commissioned by the Canadian Environmental Law Association in support of the designation finds monitoring of the radioactivity is patchy at best.

Study author John Jackson, who notes the lakes are a source of drinking water for millions of Canadians and Americans, said it's high time for the long-standing deficiency to be rectified given that the basin is a "hotbed" for nuclear-related activity.

"With the exception of Lake Superior, our lakes are surrounded by nuclear facilities," Jackson said in an interview Wednesday from Kitchener, Ont. "This isn't something small scale; this is something ringing the basin."

Those facilities -- dozens of nuclear generating stations, fuel-processing facilities, waste-disposal, and uranium mine-tailing sites among them -- all use, store and dispose of radionuclides. At the moment, however, little hard, consistent data is available as to how much radioactive toxins they discharge annually into the lakes.

An International Joint Commission study in 1997 found that keeping tabs on radioactive substances was essentially left to users, resulting in a fragmented approach that included differences in reporting and off-site monitoring.

"This situation has not improved," Jackson writes.

Recent changes under the Great Lakes water quality agreement have allowed the public to nominate "chemicals of mutual concern" to help address gaps in stemming contaminants in the lakes. The environmental law association says the submission around radionuclides is the first attempt by any group to use the process.

The designation would lead to development of a strategy to deal with the substances involving all affected parties.

"For the first time, we could have a real basin-wide discussion," Jackson said.

The issue is taking on increased urgency with a plan by Ontario Power Generation to bury tonnes of contaminated materials deep underground near the shore of Lake Huron -- a proposal currently before the federal environment minister -- as well as an ongoing search for a permanent storage site for highly radioactive spent fuel rods.

"The large number of facilities around the Great Lakes Basin, usually near the shoreline, result in ongoing regular discharges into the lakes as well as a high probability of accidents that release higher amounts of radionuclides," the letter states.

Even though some levels of radioactivity occur naturally, Jackson said every effort needs to be made to minimize any increase.

Signatories to the letter include groups such as the Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment, Greenpeace, the Council of Canadians and Sierra Club.



Advertisements

Latest Canada & World News

  • Ceremonies mark liberation of 2 Nazi camps 72 years ago

    World News CTV News
    BERLIN - Holocaust survivors and officials have gathered at the memorial sites of former concentration camps Bergen-Belsen in northern Germany and Sachsenhausen near Berlin to commemorate the liberation of the camps 72 years ago. Bergen-Belsen was liberated on April 15, 1945 by British soldiers who found some 10,000 dead bodies when they entered the Nazi camp. Source
  • North Korea detains U.S. citizen; at least 2 others being held

    World News CTV News
    PYONGYANG, Korea, Democratic People's Republic Of -- North Korea recently detained a U.S. citizen, officials said Sunday, in the latest case of an American being held in the country. The Swedish Embassy in Pyongyang said it was aware of a Korean-American citizen being detained recently, but could not comment further. Source
  • With sun shining, floodwaters begin to recede west of Montreal

    Canada News CBC News
    The floodwaters that forced hundreds from their homes in southwestern Quebec have begun to recede. Heavy rain earlier this week caused the Ottawa River to overflow, leading to severe flooding in parts of Rigaud, Que. Source
  • France begins voting in presidential poll amid high security

    World News CTV News
    PARIS -- Amid heightened security, French voters began casting ballots for their next president Sunday in a first-round poll that's seen as a litmus test for the spread of populism around the world. More than 50,000 police and gendarmes were deployed to the 66,000 polling stations for Sunday's election, which comes after Thursday's deadly attack on the Champs-Elysees in which a police officer and a gunman were slain. Source
  • Man, woman arrested in Edmonton dead toddler case

    Canada News CTV News
    Edmonton police have arrested a man and a woman in the case of a toddler whose body was found outside a church on the north side of the city. A police statement issued Saturday night said the two were arrested without incident in northwest Edmonton earlier in the evening, that they were in police custody, and that charges were pending against both individuals. Source
  • New post-secondary sexual assault policies a start but fall short, experts say

    Canada News CBC News
    Next month, British Columbia will become the second province in Canada with mandatory sexual assault policies in place at its universities — a move that comes following years of claims that some allegations were mishandled by the province's post-secondary institutions. Source
  • Transgender inmate hopes to make history with transfer to women's prison

    Canada News CBC News
    Fallon Aubee, a transgender offender serving a life sentence at Mission Institution in B.C., hopes to become the first federal inmate to be placed in prison based on gender identity. (Submitted photo) After nearly two decades of taunts, threats and physical abuse behind bars, Fallon Aubee hopes to become Canada's first federal inmate to be placed in a prison based on gender identity rather than biological sex at birth. Source
  • France heads to the polls after unpredictable presidential campaign

    World News CBC News
    France goes to the polls on Sunday for the first round of a bitterly fought presidential election, crucial to the future of Europe and a closely-watched test of voters' anger with the political establishment. Nearly 47 million voters will decide, under tight security, whether to back a pro-EU centrist newcomer, a scandal-ridden veteran conservative who wants to slash public spending, a far-left eurosceptic admirer of Fidel Castro or appoint France's first woman president, to shut borders and…
  • France voting in presidential poll amid high security

    World News CBC News
    France goes to the polls on Sunday for the first round of a bitterly fought presidential election, crucial to the future of Europe and a closely-watched test of voters' anger with the political establishment. Nearly 47 million voters will decide, under tight security, whether to back a pro-EU centrist newcomer, a scandal-ridden veteran conservative who wants to slash public spending, a far-left eurosceptic admirer of Fidel Castro or appoint France's first woman president, to shut borders and…
  • France may catch populist wave in presidential voting

    World News CBC News
    France goes to the polls on Sunday for the first round of a bitterly fought presidential election, crucial to the future of Europe and a closely-watched test of voters' anger with the political establishment. Nearly 47 million voters will decide, under tight security, whether to back a pro-EU centrist newcomer, a scandal-ridden veteran conservative who wants to slash public spending, a far-left eurosceptic admirer of Fidel Castro or appoint France's first woman president, to shut borders and…