Environmental protection review report summary: Port Hope Area Initiative
The environmental protection review reports offer a summary of CNSC staff’s technical assessment of how effectively licensees are protecting human health and the environment in the communities in which they are operating.
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About the project
The Port Hope area initiative (PHAI) sites are located within the traditional territory of the Wendat, Anishinabek Nation, and the territory covered by the Williams Treaties with the Michi Saagiig and Chippewa Nations and on the north shore of Lake Ontario in the municipalities of Port Hope and Clarington, Ontario. PHAI is a remediation project carried out by the licensee Canadian Nuclear Laboratories (CNL) on behalf of crown corporation Atomic Energy of Canada Limited (AECL) who retain ownership of the lands, assets and liabilities. Under CNL’s current operating licence, the PHAI is authorized to remediate, transport and dispose of historic low level nuclear waste into long term waste management facilities (LTWMF), and is being carried out as two projects – the Port Hope Project (PHP) and the Port Granby Project (PGP).
About the report
The summary that follows highlights key areas of interest from the environmental protection review (EPR) report for the PHAI. It represents only some of the information presented in the full report.
The purpose of the report is to share CNSC staff’s findings from the review of CNL’s environmental protection measures. This includes any possible environmental releases as part of normal operations and the potential risks that radiological or hazardous substances pose to the environment and human health. The report draws on information provided by CNL and the CNSC’s technical assessments, including:
- the results of CNL’s environmental monitoring, as reported in;
- Canadian Nuclear Laboratories Ltd Port Granby Annual Compliance Monitoring Report (2012-2021)
- Canadian Nuclear Laboratories Ltd Port Hope Annual Compliance Monitoring Report (2012-2021)
- the results of CNSC’s Independent Environmental Monitoring Program (IEMP)
- the results of other environmental monitoring and health studies conducted near the PGP and PHP sites
Overall, CNSC staff found that CNL’s continues to implement and maintain effective environmental protection measures to adequately protect the environment and the health of people living in and around Port Hope and Clarington, Ontario. CNSC staff found that the potential risks to the environment from any of the releases observed over the reporting period are similar to natural background levels and that any health risk is similar to that experienced by the general public in other parts of the province.
The graphic below illustrates how a release may reach the environment through what’s called exposure pathways. In the case of the PHAI sites, this graphic is a simplified representation of the PHAI sites and different types of releases—such as emissions in the air or effluent in the water—and the human and ecological receptors that may interact with the releases.
CNL must monitor its releases and measure them against pre-established limits. It then reports its results to the CNSC and other levels of government. The CNSC staff verify this data by conducting reviews and inspections of CNL’s environmental protection programs as well as by using mechanisms such as the IEMP.
Under the IEMP, CNSC staff take samples, such as air, water, soil, sediment, vegetation, or some local food like meat or vegetables, from public areas near nuclear facilities. These areas may include parks, farmland and beaches. The samples are then tested at the CNSC’s own laboratory for contaminants related to each facility's operations.
CNSC staff conducted IEMP sampling around the PHAI in 2013, 2014, 2017 and 2019. Laboratory specialists analyzed samples in the CNSC’s laboratory in Ottawa. The levels of arsenic, uranium and radium-226 in all of the samples measured in 2019 were below available guidelines and were similar to the range of results from the 2013, 2014 and 2017 sampling campaigns at the PHP and PGP sites.
Our IEMP page has more information, including detailed sampling results.
Air: Atmospheric releases
CNL is required to characterize the ambient air quality around the PHP and PGP sites, during the Construction and Development Phase and compare it to the predictions made in the environmental assessment (EA). There is a small potential for airborne emissions resulting from remediation activities during PHAI activities.
Based on the review of CNL’s results of the atmospheric monitoring program for the PHP LTWMF, CNSC staff have found that airborne emissions from the PHP LTWMF were within the EA predictions, which predicted occasional exceedances of the provincial standards. Exceedances of total suspended particulates (TSP) and dust were followed up on appropriately, and all metals and radionuclides remained within their respective criteria. CNSC staff are satisfied that ambient air quality remains at levels protective of human health and the environment and, therefore, it is unlikely that CNL activities are having a measurable impact on the surrounding atmospheric environment.
|Hi-Vol station||2015||2016||2017||2018||2019||2020||Overriding limit|
|PHP LTWMF weather station||Average* (µg/m3)||14||21||22||23||16||18||120 µg/m3 TSP |
|PHP LTWMF weather station||Maximum (µg/m3)||56||95||116||104||158**||85||120 µg/m3 TSP |
|PHP LTWMF Northwest||Average* (µg/m3)||14||22||18||26||21||21||120 µg/m3 TSP |
|PHP LTWMF Northwest||Maximum (µg/m3)||51||79||73||150||96||179**||120 µg/m3 TSP |
|PHP LTWMF South||Average* (µg/m3)||14||16||14||20||14||15||120 µg/m3 TSP |
|PHP LTWMF South||Maximum (µg/m3)||51||85||53||162**||85||73||120 µg/m3 TSP |
|Transportation route, 192 Toronto Road||Average* (µg/m3)||17||27||20||26||18||19||120 µg/m3 TSP |
|Transportation route, 192 Toronto Road||Maximum (µg/m3)||69||151**||57||119||75||58||120 µg/m3 TSP |
*average presented as geometric mean.
** indicate levels exceeding overriding TSP limit of 120 µg/m3.
Based on the review of CNL’s results of the atmospheric monitoring program for the PGP, CNSC staff have found that airborne emissions from the PGP often remained below the provincial standards and within the EA predictions; therefore, ambient air quality remained at levels protective of human health and the environment. Exceedances due to the project activities of TSP and dust were followed up on appropriately, and all metals and radionuclides remained below their respective criteria.
|Hi-Vol station||2015||2016||2017||2018||2019||2020||Overriding limits|
|PGP South||Average* (µg/m3)||12||20||16||22||17||18||120 µg/m3 TSP |
|PGP South||Maximum (µg/m3)||47||166**||170**||223**||161**||184**||120 µg/m3 TSP |
|PGP East||Average* (µg/m3)||12||20||16||20||15||16||120 µg/m3 TSP |
|PGP East||Maximum (µg/m3)||48||259**||179**||157**||71||56||120 µg/m3 TSP |
|PGP Northwest||Average* (µg/m3)||NA||23||16||17||17||14||120 µg/m3 TSP |
|PGP Northwest||Maximum (µg/m3)||NA||1392**||91||120||106||271**||120 µg/m3 TSP |
*average presented as geometric mean.
** indicate above overriding TSP limit of 120 µg/m3.
Water: Liquid Releases
CNL controls and monitors waterborne releases that come from operations at both PHP and PGP sites, including uranium, radium-226 and pH. The liquid, or effluent, discharge is typically sampled on a flow-proportional basis with the use of automated samplers. Sampling is done in accordance with methods and protocols approved by the Ontario Ministry of the Environment, Conservation and Parks. The PHP and PGP each have 1 discharge location in Lake Ontario. Treated effluent at each location is released using an outfall pipe and diffuser.
CNSC staff have found that CNL’s reported liquid effluent released to Lake Ontario from the former water treatment plants (WTP) and the new waste water treatment plants (WWTP) remained several orders of magnitude below the CNSC’s approved licence limits. CNSC staff are satisfied that CNL continues to provide adequate protection to the people and the environment from effluent discharged to Lake Ontario from the PHP and PGP.
Soil: Deposits on the ground
The PHAI is expected to have the beneficial effect of improving soil quality at cleanup sites by removing contaminated materials. However, some accumulation of contaminants on surface soil from airborne, or dust, deposition is expected. CNL collects soil samples annually at 5 locations for radium-226, uranium and arsenic and compare the soil quality to baseline data and predictions made in the EA.
Based on the review of CNL’s soil monitoring program results for the PHP LTWMF, CNSC staff are satisfied that soil quality remains at levels protective of human health and the environment, and that airborne transport of soil and dust from the project is not affecting the soil quality around the site. There have been instances of concentrations in soil above the predicted levels for various reasons unrelated to the PHP activities, such as arsenic levels being elevated in an area known to have higher arsenic levels due to surface water runoff. Areas that exceeded provincial guidelines due to surface water runoff will be remediated as part of the PHAI cleanup.
Based on the review of CNL’s soil monitoring program results for the PGP, CNSC staff have found that soil surrounding the PGP activities is below the guidelines and within the EA predictions. Therefore, soil quality remains at levels protective of human health and the environment, and airborne transport of soil and dust from the project is not affecting the soil quality around the site. As the PGP is almost transitioned to phase 3 (as of 2022), impacts on soil due to project activities are not expected, moving forward.
When ionizing radiation penetrates matter, such as the human body, it deposits energy. The energy absorbed from exposure to radiation is called a dose. Under the Radiation Protection Regulations, the maximum dose limit to a member of the public is 1 mSv (millisievert) or 1,000 µSv (microsieverts) per year. This is well below levels where any measurable health effect would occur.
To calculate the effective dose to people living near the facility, CNL looked at representative persons located within or in proximity to the PHP and PGP sites and determined whether they could be exposed to radiological or hazardous contaminants. Representative persons are those individuals who, because of their location and habits, are likely to receive the highest exposures to radiological or hazardous substances from a particular source and therefore potentially have their health harmed by these exposures. Residents in the rural areas adjacent to the LTWMF during construction and development were determined to be the most exposed individuals for potential radiological and hazardous contaminant exposures.
The estimated annual dose resulting from the PHP LTWMF has remained constantly below the CNSC public dose limit of 1 mSv per year and lower than 0.005 mSv per year (5% of the public dose limit) in the last 5 years, as seen in Table 3. Monthly and quarterly monitoring results confirm that public doses from 2012 to 2021 were significantly less than the annual public dose limit.
Based on assessments conducted for the PHP LTWMF, including the review of the annual reports, as well as quarterly and annual environmental monitoring data, CNSC staff have found that impacts to the human environment from radiological and hazardous substances released from the PHP are negligible, and that people living and working near the facility remain protected.
|Public dose limit (µSv/a)||2012||2013||2014||2015||2016||2017||2018||2019||2020||2021|
|1,000||90.3 µSv/a||99.8 µSv/a||87.1 µSv/a||93.52 µSv/a||11.95 µSv/a||4.5 µSv/a||27.5 µSv/a||36 µSv/a||33 µSv/a||23 µSv/a|
The estimated annual dose resulting from the PGP LTWMF has remained constantly below the CNSC public dose limit of 1 mSv/y and lower than 0.05 mSv per year (5% of the public dose limit) in the last 5 years, as seen in Table 4. Monthly and quarterly monitoring results confirm that public doses from 2012 to 2021 were significantly less than the annual public dose limit.
Based on assessments of the PGP, including the review of the annual reports and annual environmental monitoring data, CNSC staff have found that impacts to human health from radiological and substances released from the PGP are negligible, and that people living and working near the facility remain protected. As the PGP is moving into the final phase of the project, maintenance and monitoring, potential effects from project activities are expected to decrease.
|Public dose limit (µSv)||2012||2013||2014||2015||2016||2017||2018||2019||2020||2021|
|1,000||7.2 µSv/a||8.4 µSv/a||6.6 µSv/a||8.4 µSv/a||5.43 µSv/a||5.71 µSv/a||20 µSv/a||39.6 µSv/a||20 µSv/a||41 µSv/a|
Reviewing and conducting health studies is another way CNSC staff ensure that the people living near nuclear facilities are protected. People living around the PHAI sites are monitored by the Haliburton, Kawartha, Pine Ridge District Health Unit and the Durham Region Health Department. Population and community health studies indicate that common causes of death among these populations include circulatory and respiratory diseases, cancers and dementia. This is similar to the rest of Canada, where heart disease and cancers are the two leading causes of death. Major health risk factors such as smoking, excess body weight, alcohol consumption, physical inactivity, and poor diet may account for the occurrence of these diseases and play a contributing role in disease patterns across the province of Ontario. Environmental and epidemiological studies conducted in Port Hope have also concluded that the low levels of radiological and non-radiological environmental exposures within the region have not caused any adverse effects on human health. Additional information on health studies related to nuclear facilities is available on the CNSC web page on health studies.
Based on the assessed exposure and health data, CNSC staff have not observed and do not expect to observe any adverse health outcomes attributable to activities at PHP and PGP sites.
 CNSC, "Port Hope Long-Term Low-Level Radioative Waste Management Project Licence Conditions Handbook WNSL-W1-LCH-2310, Revision 1.," 2014.
 CNSC, "Licence Conditions Handbook - WNSL-LCH-W1-2311.00/2022 - Port Granby Project - Waste Nuclear Substance Licence WNSL-W1-2311.00/2022," 2022.
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