Ontario Drinking Water Advisory Council recommends new standard for tritium in drinking water

June 9th, 2009 Comments off

The Ontario Drinking Water Advisory Council has recommended that the Ontario drinking water standard for tritium be reduced from 7,000 Bq/l to 20 Bq/l.

The report and recommendations are available here.

TAP commends the ODWAC for its thorough review and sound recommendations which will help to reduce the tritium hazard to Ontario residents.

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Serious tritium pollution in Peterborough, Ontario

May 5th, 2009 Comments off

Serious tritium pollution has recently come to light in the vicinity of Shield Source Incorporated, a tritium sign factory near the Peterborough airport. The company has applied for a five year extension of its existing license. The application will be considered at a public hearing at the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission in Ottawa on June 10th. 

Documents filed for the hearing show tritium contamination at the base of SSI’s stacks has exceeded 1,000,000 Becquerels per litre. Local apples and groundwater wells are contaminated at many times higher than background levels. 

 SSI’s current license permits it to release 34,000 quadrillion becquerels of tritium. This is an unbelievably large quantity. So large it’s hard to put into words. But suffice it to say that SSI’s current license permits it to release more than the current total global inventory of tritium. Read more…

United States way ahead of Canada on safe disposal of tritium exit signs

May 4th, 2009 Comments off

As they age, tritium EXIT signs become less effective and more toxic, as the tritium gas inside them is converted to the more toxic oxide form. One sign, thrown into a landfill can create significant groundwater pollution.

Various American authorities have recently posted detailed information on the internet about responsible management of  tritium EXIT signs. Authorities in the United States appear to be way ahead of their Canadian counterparts in addressing the serious problems created by use and disposal of  these signs, many of which are manufactured in Canada.

In the U.S.,  the Department of Defense, National Institutes of Health and Environmental Protection Agency all have prohibited use of tritium signs. Here are two informative web resources created recently by American authorities.

1) Responsible Management of tritium EXIT signs - excellent on-line training module from the Environmental Protection Agency that includes information on health risks, a key to identify tritium signs, recommended alternatives, and safe procedures for disposal.

2) Bureau of Radiation Protection, State of Pennsylvania - detailed webpage with much information about the problems with tritium exit signs.

TAP asks “Where is Canada’s information on responsibly dealing with tritium exit signs”?  

One tritium exit sign contains enough radiation for a lethal dose

April 7th, 2009 Comments off

Ontario Power Generation sells waste tritium from CANDU reactors to two Ontario companies that manufacture tritium lights,  SRB Technologies in Pembroke and Shield Source in Peterborough. These companies use the tritium to make self-luminous exit signs. TAP believes that the marketing of radioactive waste in these products should be prohibited. Safer, more effective and more energy efficient alternatives are available.

Besides being hazardous during manufacture and disposal, tritium lights and products containing them are hazardous during use. The tritium contained in a single exit sign, if fully oxidized and inhaled would constitute a lethal dose of radiation. Incidents have occurred in the United States where lights have been accidentally or intentionally broken, thus requiring expensive emergency measures including evacuations and decontamination operations.

This and other problems are described in the TAP fact sheet “Problems with tritium exit signs” available in PDF format for download in the documents section of this website.

Used tritium exit signs from Canada causing serious pollution problems around the world

April 7th, 2009 Comments off

There are many problems with tritium exit signs, as detailed in the TAP fact sheet on this topic.

Disposal of waste exit signs can seriously pollute groundwater. Tritium lights become much more hazardous to the environment as they age; the glass tubes act as sponges for tritium, converting it into its more hazardous and soluble oxidized form. Information linking high levels of tritium oxide in landfill leachate to discarded exit signs, has recently come to light in Scotland, South Africa, Italy and several states in the U.S. Regulators are grappling with the issue of how to ensure that used tritium exit signs go to monitored, radioactive waste storage facilities (1,2). Although no Canadian data are available, the situation may be worse here because regulations allow for disposal of used exit signs in ordinary landfills.

References:

1) Study of tritium in leachate from Scottish landfill sites
2)  State of Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection

A series of stories about SRB Technologies from the archives

April 3rd, 2009 Comments off

We have just posted several archival news stories here on the TAP website,  dealing with tritium pollution from SRB Technologies Inc. in Pembroke, Ontario. This story is incredible but true. 

SRB  was licensed by the Atomic Energy Control Board (now the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission) in 1990  to market a radioactive waste byproduct of CANDU reactors called tritium — a radioactive form of hydrogen. SRB makes self-illuminating signs — they glow in the dark because they are filled with large quantities of radioactive tritium gas.  

Over the years. SRB has contaminated the environment in Pembroke with high levels of tritium. In some years, more tritium was given off into the environment by the SRB plant than by all of Canada’s nuclear power reactors combined.  Meanwhile, SRB is exporting tritium contamination problems around the world because there is no effective control over the ultimate disposal of these radioactive signs. 

This story is replete with patent examples of regulatory incompetence, murky questions about nuclear weapons and international security risks (because tritium is also used as a nuclear explosive material) and salt-of-the-earth folks being treated with disregard and exposed to high levels of radioactive tritium for  almost 20 years with no end in sight.  Please see also the “personal stories” category for more about this.

TAP feels that the marketing of radioactive wastes like tritium should be banned in Canada, and the SRB plant should be permanently shut down

The atomic rhubarb of Pembroke

April 3rd, 2009 Comments off

Tritium-laced plants found near town’s glow-in-the-dark sign factory
MARTIN MITTELSTAEDT Environment Reporter, The Globe and Mail
Tuesday, September 28, 1999

Radioactive rhubarb has been found growing in Pembroke, Ont., near a factory that makes glow-in-the-dark signs from nuclear waste.

The rhubarb, apparently thriving downwind of the sign factory owned by SRB Technologies (Canada) Inc., contained about 1,000 times the radioactive tritium found either in rain water in Ottawa or in a rhubarb sample taken from a garden about 45 kilometres away.

“It was unusually large rhubarb, but I don’t think it was mutant or anything like that,” said Ole Hendrickson, a resident of the Ottawa Valley community who helped collect the samples. Read more…

High levels of tritium contamination found in samples from Pembroke

April 2nd, 2009 Comments off

MARTIN MITTELSTAEDT, ENVIRONMENT REPORTER, The Globe and Mail
November 12, 1999

Radioactive matter shows up in rink ice, cucumbers, and woman’s urine

High levels of radioactive tritium are being found throughout Pembroke, the site of a plant that recycles the waste material to make glow-in-the-dark signs. Tritium has been discovered in the ice of a local hockey rink, in cucumbers and in the urine of one of the residents of the Ottawa River Valley city.

Although the tritium levels that were found were up to 1,500 times higher than the concentrations in rainwater, the Atomic Energy Control Board says they pose negligible risk of causing cancer. Read more…

Boxes of tritium dropped on Bank Street in Ottawa

April 2nd, 2009 Comments off

One day just before Christmas in December 2000, after a particularly depressing relicensing hearing for SRB Technologies (the tritium light factory in Pembroke Ontario) I picked up the Ottawa Citizen and noticed a tiny little blurb about boxes of radioactive material falling off a Purolator truck in downtown Ottawa. SRB had just been granted a 5-year license despite our protests about their sloppy and highly polluting practices.

Turns out that a passerby in downtown Ottawa noticed three boxes in the middle of Bank St. with radiation symbols on them. She called the police and several blocks of downtown Ottawa were cordoned off while the boxes were dealt with by emergency services. Personnel from SRB in Pembroke were called to retrieve the material, compressed tritium gas and lights bound for an undisclosed destination in the United States. Read more…

Pembroke factory sparks nuclear concern

April 1st, 2009 Comments off

After discovering groundwater contaminated with radioactive tritium, regulatory agency recommends shutting company

MARTIN MITTELSTAEDT, ENVIRONMENT REPORTER, The Globe and Mail
Wednesday, November 30, 2005 Page A3

Alarmed about radioactivity levels around Pembroke, Ont., that are hundreds of times above normal, staff at Canada’s nuclear regulatory agency have taken the unprecedented step of recommending the closing of a manufacturer of glow-in-the-dark signs. 

Staff at the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission have found that emissions from the company, SRB Technologies (Canada) Inc., have created a trail of groundwater contaminated with radioactive tritium more than a kilometre long under the Ottawa River Valley community of 15,000. The most contaminated water had tritium levels 743 times normal. Read more…