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Mini firestorm of concern about drinking water in Ottawa

March 6th, 2009

Our TAP press conference on Parliament Hill Wednesday has raised concern about Ottawa’s drinking water among some members of the media and general public.  People are surprised to learn that drinking water in Ottawa is radioactive. Perhaps this is because previous media reports included assurances from authorities like this one:

“Radioactive water never reached river: Feds”  (Ottawa Sun, January 30, 2009_

Peter Zimonjic  The federal government says no radioactive material from a recent leak at

the Chalk River nuclear research facility made its way into the Ottawa River…

No wonder people are upset to learn that in fact millions of bequerels of radioactive tritium entered the Ottawa River in December and subsequent spills in January and February.

Data released yesterday by the City of Ottawa show that the Ottawa River is chronically contaminated with tritium at the level of 6 bq / litre. This level is more than three times the background level.  In essence this means that in every litre of tap water in Ottawa, there are six radioactive decay events going off every second, second after second. This is equal to more than or 20,000 every hour, and more than half a million per day in this one litre of tap water.

When you drink water with tritium in it, much of the tritium passes through the body. However, small quantities get absorbed into organic molecules in the body including DNA. Inside organic molecules and especially in DNA, tritium can do significant damage. TAP’s position is that it’s good to keep tritium out of drinking water for this reason.

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Tritium Awareness Project