Independent Environmental Monitoring Program: Chalk River Laboratories
Publication date: February, 2021
Canadian Nuclear Laboratories Ltd. (CNL) is licensed by the CNSC to operate Chalk River Laboratories (CRL), located in Chalk River, Ontario. CNL operates various nuclear services including the production of medical isotopes, and conducts a wide variety of research programs at the site. CNL has a comprehensive environmental protection program to monitor and control radioactive and hazardous substances released from the facilities, to determine concentrations of contaminants in the environment, and to assess exposure to the public.
Independent Environmental Monitoring Program (IEMP) results from 2019, 2015, 2013 and 2012 confirm that the public and the environment in the vicinity of the CRL site are protected and that there are no expected health impacts as a result of site operations.
- Interactive map and IEMP results
- Data table Chalk River Laboratories CSV (180 kb)
- Overview of the sampling campaign
- Results: (2019) (2015) (2013) (2012)
Chalk River Laboratories
1The < symbol indicates that a result is below the provided laboratory analytical detection limit.
2For water samples, the results for hazardous parameters are compared to Canadian Council of Ministers of the Environment (CCME) guidelines for the protection of aquatic life; where no CCME guidelines exist, the Health Canada drinking water quality guidelines are used.
3For radiological parameters where no guidelines exist, CNSC screening levels were established based on conservative assumptions using CSA standard N288.1-14. The screening level for a particular radionuclide in a particular medium (e.g., water, air, food) represents the activity concentration that would result in a dose of 0.1 mSv/a, a dose at which no health impacts are expected.
Under the Nuclear Safety and Control Act, licensees of nuclear facilities are required to implement environmental monitoring programs to demonstrate that the public and the environment are protected from emissions related to the facilities’ activities. The results of these monitoring programs are submitted to the CNSC, which verifies and ensures compliance with applicable regulatory requirements.
The CNSC has implemented its IEMP to independently verify that the public and the environment around the licensed nuclear facilities are protected. The IEMP is separate from, but complementary to, the CNSC’s ongoing compliance verification program. The IEMP involves taking samples from publicly accessible areas around the facilities, and measuring and analyzing the amount of radioactive (nuclear)and hazardous substances in those samples. CNSC staff collect the samples and send them to the CNSC’s independent laboratory for testing and analysis. CNSC conducted IEMP sampling campaign around Chalk River Laboratories in 2012, 2013, 2015 and 2019.
The 2019 IEMP sampling plan for the CRL site focused on both radioactive (nuclear) and hazardous contaminants. A site-specific sampling plan was developed based on CNL’s environmental monitoring program and the CNSC’s regulatory experience with the site. In 2019, samples were collected in publicly accessible areas outside the CRL site perimeter and included air, water, soil, beach sand, wild vegetation, grass, and food such as goat, radishes, kale, tomatoes and cucumbers.
The concentrations of radioactive contaminants measured in air, beach sand, food, soil, vegetation and water were below CNSC screening levels and within the range of expected natural background levels. CNSC screening levels are based on conservative assumptions about the exposure that would result in a dose of 0.1 mSv/year. No health impacts are expected at this dose level.
Similar to previous years’ results, the concentration of iron (Fe) in the water sample (CR09-W05) exceeded the CCME’s Canadian water quality guidelines (300 ug/L), but remained within the range of natural background levels (100–2170 µg/L). It should be noted that the CCME value for iron is based on objectionable water taste, and staining of plumbing and laundry, as opposed to health concerns. The IEMP data with elevated levels of iron occurred in Black Duck Lake, adjacent to Deep River. These results are not reflective of activities at the CRL site, and are deemed to be associated with natural concentrations Footnote 1, as elevated levels of iron are characteristic of this type of water body (swamp) or other local activities such as those that used to take place on the nearby trail, which was historically a railway track.
The IEMP results for calcium (8.6 mg/L) reported at CR09-W05 are well below the water hardness background level (41 mg/L) reported by CNL. Furthermore, the IEMP results for uranium in beach sand (0.33–0.62 mg/kg) were comparable to the range of values obtained at the reference site upstream beaches in Deep River and Cook’s Cove. The measured uranium concentrations in beach sand are indistinguishable from background levels Footnote 2 and do not pose any added risks to human health or the environment.
2015, 2013, and 2012 results
IEMP sampling at the CRL site for 2012, 2013 and 2015 focused on both radioactive (nuclear) and hazardous substances. A site-specific sampling plan was developed based on CNL’s environmental monitoring program and the CNSC’s regulatory experience with the site. In 2015, 2013, and 2012, samples were collected in publicly accessible areas outside the CNL perimeter fence and included samples of air, beach sand, food, sediment, soil, vegetation and water.
The concentrations of radioactive contaminants measured in air, beach sand, foodstuffs, soil, vegetation and water were below CNSC screening levels and within natural background levels. CNSC screening levels are based on conservative assumptions about the exposure that would result in a dose of 0.1 mSv/year. No health impacts are expected at this dose level.
The concentration of hazardous contaminants in air, beach sand, sediment, soil and water were, in general, below or close to the CCME’s guidelines and the natural background levels. No health or environmental impacts are expected at these levels.
Focus on health
The CNSC reviews the results of the local public health unit reports and data to provide further independent verification that the health of people in and around Chalk River Laboratories are not impacted by the site. The Renfrew County and District Health Unit monitors the health of populations around Chalk River Laboratories, and disease rates are compared to other similar populations to detect any potential health outcomes that may be of concern. From 2010–14, for all cancers and sexes combined, Renfrew County and District (RCD) had incidence and mortality rates similar to those of Ontario. However, lung cancer incidence and mortality were significantly higher in RCD, particularly in females. RCD has markedly higher smoking rates (a significant risk factor for lung cancer) compared to the rest of Ontario.
The IEMP results from 2012, 2013, 2015 and 2019 indicate that the public and the environment around the CRL site are protected and there are no expected health impacts as a result of operations at the site. The IEMP results are consistent with the results submitted by CNL, demonstrating that the licensee’s environmental protection program currently in place is protective of the public and the environment. The CNSC is transitioning to an online reporting format for the IEMP. All IEMP information will be available on the online dashboard once this upgrade is complete. The CNSC recommends referencing online material for the most current and accurate data.
- Footnote 1
RC-1185, Available Data for Establishing Background Levels in the Vicinity of Canadian CANDU Stations, COG-94-75, March 1994.
- Footnote 2
Ministry of Environment and Energy, Provincial Water Quality Guidelines and Objectives, PIBS 3303E, July 1994.
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