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

  • John Kelly says Trump's positions on issues are evolving, 'even the wall'

    World News CTV News
    WASHINGTON -- U.S. President Donald Trump's chief of staff says Trump has evolved on many issues since the campaign. John Kelly says in an interview with Fox News host Bret Baier that "there's been an evolutionary process that this president's gone through" on issues ranging from Afghanistan to his promised Southern border wall. Source
  • Woman at centre of social media storm says no one told her how to dress

    Canada News CBC News
    The woman at the centre of a social media storm surrounding the use of her image says the conversation was misinformed from the start. A Facebook user noted the woman's appearance in a Government of Canada advertising campaign bore a resemblance to the Disney cartoon character Pocahontas. Source
  • Kinder Morgan says Trans Mountain project could be a year behind schedule

    Canada News CBC News
    Kinder Morgan Canada is projecting that the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion project could be a year behind schedule as it continues to encounter permitting delays. The estimate is three months further behind from the company's last estimate in December, and now potentially puts the $7.4-billion project in service by December 2020, depending on regulatory, permit and legal approvals. Source
  • Tillerson says Kim Jong Un must 'tell me he wants to talk'

    World News CTV News
    PALO ALTO, Calif. -- U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson voiced confidence Wednesday North Korea will eventually negotiate with the United States, saying China's co-operation with a U.S.-led pressure campaign was starting to affect its reclusive ally's thinking. Source
  • Missing Ont. woman's body found; police say man arrested in her death

    Canada News CTV News
    HAMILTON -- Police say they have located the body of a missing 29-year-old Hamilton woman and arrested a man in connection with her death. Hamilton police say Holly Hamilton was reported missing by her family on Monday. Source
  • British lawmakers back Brexit legislation, but bill faces scrutiny from pro-EU upper house

    World News CBC News
    British lawmakers voted in favour of the government's legislative blueprint for Brexit on Wednesday, marking a victory for Prime Minister Theresa May over political opponents who want a softer approach to leaving the European Union. But the legislation will now face scrutiny from Parliament's largely pro-EU upper house, where May's party does not have a majority, which will intensify efforts to force a rerun of a 2016 referendum, and water down or even stop the divorce. Source
  • Trump says Russia helping North Korea skirt sanctions

    World News CBC News
    U.S. President Donald Trump said on Wednesday Russia is helping North Korea get supplies in violation of international sanctions and that Pyongyang is getting "closer every day" to being able to deliver a long-range missile to the United States. Source
  • Grid shuts down after plane clips power lines near Alberta town

    Canada News CBC News
    Thousands of people in and around the central Alberta town of Didsbury were without electricity for about four hours Tuesday after a small plane knocked out power lines. RCMP say a single-engine Piper PA-28-180 Cherokee was coming in to land at the Olds-Didsbury Airport sometime after 8 p.m. Source
  • New trial ordered for N.S. sex worker who says she stabbed man in self-defence

    Canada News CTV News
    HALIFAX -- Nova Scotia's highest court has ordered a new trial for a sex worker convicted of assault for stabbing a client she said was sexually assaulting her. The woman had been convicted for stabbing Douglas Barrett in the back in his Sydney, N.S. Source
  • SeaRose shut down after Husky reprimanded for iceberg close call

    Canada News CBC News
    The C-NLOPB has suspended operations for Husky's SeaRose FPSO because of how it handled an incident with a too-close iceberg last March. "The SeaRose FPSO should have disconnected and sailed away from the threatening iceberg. Source