Canadian regulations for the allowable levels of tritium in drinking water are higher than their USA and EU counterparts. Since Tritium can’t be filtered out of water, does that mean Canadians will be more susceptible to radiation causing diseases and cancers? The Government claims that our groundwater reserves aren’t contaminated and that they’re not used for drinking in any case. Does this mean they’re contaminated or not? Does it pose any danger to the environment?

It is true that the limits in Canada are higher than in some other countries, such as the US. However, this does not mean that Canadians are more susceptible to cancer or other effects of radiation.  Guidelines on the limits are provided by Health Canada and can be found in the Guidelines for Canadian Drinking Water Quality.  The limit in Canada is based upon international radiation protection concepts, including data from the International Committee on Radiation Protection and the World Health Organization.  Some countries have chosen to use slightly different data in their calculations, which results in different limits.  For example, US limits are lower than Canada, but Australian limits are higher.

Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC) document Standards and Guidelines for Tritium in Drinking Water, explains these differences in more detail.  Canada has chosen to use a reference dose level of 0.1 mSv/year for limiting tritium.  This is 10% of the general radiation dose limit for the public.  It is 20-30 times lower than the total amount of radiation that an individual would receive in a year from all sources of natural background radiation.

Recently, the Ontario government considered lowering the tritium limits in that Province. In response to this proposal, the CRPA wrote a position paper demonstrating that there was in fact no need to reduce the limits.  There were several reasons for this, including the fact that there was no scientific basis for the proposed decrease.

As you can see from this information page on the CNSC website, there may be some areas where tritium concentrations in groundwater are higher than others, but this is due to historical activities, and the locations are well known. It is illegal to discharge any tritium directly to groundwater. Any groundwater which does have elevated levels of tritium is not used as a source of drinking water and does not pose a health risk to the public.

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