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Open letter from Pembroke resident to CNSC President

May 17th, 2010

May 17 2010

Open letter to Dr. Michael Binder, President of the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission

CNSC staff recently produced a series of research studies on tritium called the Tritium Studies Project. Six of the reports are completed and available on the CNSC website (CNSC Open House: Tritium Studies Project April 28, 2010).

I have a special interest in these reports. Tritium in the community of Pembroke (my home town) began increasing in 1990 following the arrival of a facility that manufactures and recycles tritium filled exit signs and gun-sights. From a review of the CNSC reports I see that Pembroke now has the dubious distinction of being the “Tritium Capital of Canada.”

Tritium an isotope of hydrogen, is rare, making up less than 1 quadrillionth of a percent of all naturally occurring hydrogen; but it’s certainly not rare in Pembroke.

 We are home to some of the most abundant tritium concentrations in Canada – in groundwater, soil, garden produce and air (Tritium Releases and Dose Consequences CNSC, 2009 and Evaluation of Facilities Handling Tritium, CNSC 2010). So much so, in fact, that our community was the subject of a special CNSC investigation (Tritium Activity in Garden Produce from Pembroke in 2007 and Dose to the Public, CNSC 2010).

 There’s even a communiqué on the CNSC website addressed specifically to us: “Pembroke: Topics of Interest” which states:

The CNSC wishes to reassure members of the public that current tritium levels in drinking water do not pose a risk to their health.  Tritium levels found in the municipal drinking water of communities near nuclear facilities are well below national and international standards, and below the 20 Bq/L limit proposed by the Ontario Drinking Water Advisory Council”

 It is true, that levels of tritium in municipal drinking water, in general, fall below the proposed Ontario drinking water standard, even in Pembroke. It is misleading, however, Dr. Binder, for the CNSC to reference municipal values when you and I are both aware of the presence of at least seven residential and business wells within Pembroke and the neighbouring community of Laurentian Valley with tritium concentrations exceeding the 20 becquerel limit, with levels as high as 3,900 bequerels per litre.

Tritium levels in some Pembroke and area wells levels are not only above the proposed Ontario drinking water standard but higher than residential wells found elsewhere in Canada – including those in the vicinity of other, larger nuclear facilities such as Pickering A, Bruce A, Gentilly, Point Lepreau, Darlington, and Chalk River (Tritium Releases and Dose Consequences, CNSC, 2009).

I am glad that the CNSC is providing the public an opportunity to respond in writing to these reports. I am disappointed however, that such a narrow window has been provided in which to accomplish this. Submissions are due June 8th, hardly adequate time for a thorough review. The Pembroke study, one of the last to be released, was only made public April 27th of this year.

The Ontario Drinking Water Advisory Council recently recommended a substantial lowering of the provincial standard for tritium in drinking water (from 7000 to 20 bequerels per litre) following extensive and extended public consultation.

Given the perceived importance of the CNSC reports in determining federal public health related policy, we hope the Commission will consider extending the deadline.


Kelly O’Grady

Pembroke, ON


Residential and business wells within a 1 km radius of Pembroke identified with tritium levels in excess of Ontario proposed drinking water standard of 20 bequerels per litre (Reports on groundwater contamination can be downloaded from SRB Technologies website – http://www.betalight.com Follow the links to Canada – Public Information Program – Annual Compliance Reports ).


1. Boundary Rd. (business well)

Range 238 to 307 Bq/L

2. Boundary Rd (residential well)

Range: 20 to 583 Bq/L

3. Boundary Rd (business well)

Range 979 to 1404 Bq/L

4. Boundary Rd. (truck wash well)

Range 1849 to 3939 Bq/L

5. Boundary Rd. (residential well)

Range 423 to1506 Bq/L

6. Mud Lake Rd (residential well)

Range 186 to 358 Bq/L

7. Mud Lake Rd. (residential well)

Range 199 to 336 Bq/L

CNSC Communique: “Pembroke: Topics of Interest,


Ontario Drinking Water Advisory Council Report and Advice on the Ontario Drinking Water Quality Standard for Tritium (May 21, 2009)


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Tritium Awareness Project