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Tritium Standard Review

June 9, 2009 Update:

The Council's May 21, 2009 "Report and Advice on the Ontario Drinking Water Quality Standard for Tritium", prepared for the Ontario Minister of the Environment, is now available for download.

As well, the Cover Letter from the Council Chair to the Minister of the Environment, dated May 21, 2009, is also available for download.

It should be noted that if the Ministry of the Environment proposes any changes to the Ontario Drinking Water Quality Standard for tritium, there is an obligation, under the Environmental Bill of Rights Act, 1993, to publicly consult through the Environmental Registry.

This consultation process is an important part of ensuring that stakeholders and the general public can participate in provincial decisions that affect the environment, as all comments submitted are considered before any changes are made to legislation, regulations, or policies.


On February 21, 2007, the Minister of the Environment requested that ODWAC review and provide advice on the current Ontario Drinking Water Quality Standard for Tritium of 7,000 becquerels per Litre (Bq/L), in response to a request from the City of Toronto’s Medical Officer of Health.

The Council was also requested at that time to take into consideration the 1994 report entitled “A Standard for Tritium” prepared by the former Ontario Advisory Committee on Environmental Standards (ACES), which recommended a Standard of 100 Bq/L, to be further reduced to 20 Bq/L after 5 years.

Subsequent to this request, on June 12, 2007, the Minister of the Environment also asked that the Council take into account a report entitled “Tritium Hazard Report: Pollution and Radiation Risks from Canadian Nuclear Facilities” released by Greenpeace Canada, and authored by Dr. Ian Fairlie of the UK.

In response to the requests from the Minister of the Environment, the Council formed a Tritium Working Group to assist in focusing its review of the Standard. To date, the Tritium Working Group has collected, reviewed and analyzed pertinent research and literature on Tritium, undertaken inter-jurisdictional comparisons, attended seminars and workshops, and met with a number of public health, nuclear industry, governmental, and non-governmental organizations and individuals, including:

  • Toronto Public Health
  • Toronto Cancer Prevention Coalition, Occupational and Environmental Carcinogens Working Group
  • Ontario Ministry of Labour’s Radiation Protection Service
  • Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission
  • Bruce Power
  • Ontario Power Generation
  • Greenpeace Canada
  • Independent Researchers
  • On March 26 and 27, 2008, ODWAC held a public consultation meeting on Tritium in drinking water to hear from the general public, and in particular, citizens groups concerned about Tritium in their local environments, (e.g. nuclear plants, mining industries, and industries that Tritium for a variety of reasons), as part of its process for developing its advice to the Minister of the Environment.
  • To view more information on the public consultation meeting, please click here.
  • Pour obtenir des renseignements en français, veuillez contacter Peter Huck au (519) 888-4567 ex. 32707 ou pm2huck@uwaterloo.ca

Information will be collected in accordance with the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act. With the exception of personal information, all comments will become part of the public record.

What is Tritium and how is it produced?

Tritium is a form of radioactive hydrogen.

Tritium is produced naturally in the upper atmosphere when cosmic rays interact with atmospheric gases. Tritium then reaches the earth’s surface via rainfall. The amount of Tritium found in rain water has ranged from below 0.05 Bq/L to 9 Bq/L in studies conducted in North America.  Levels higher than this range would indicate human-made sources.

Human-made sources of Tritium include nuclear weapon explosions and nuclear reactors used for producing electricity. Tritium is also released by facilities producing glow-in-the-dark signs. These facilities obtain tritiated gas from nuclear facilities.

What is the current Standard in Ontario for Tritium in Drinking Water?

Ontario’s current Standard of 7,000 Becquerels per Litre (Bq/L) for Tritium in Drinking Water was adopted from Health Canada’s 1995 Canadian Drinking Water Quality Guidelines, and was made an enforceable Maximum Acceptable Concentration (MAC) in 2003 via Ontario Regulation 169/03 (Ontario Drinking Water Quality Standards).

Ontario’s Standards are generally adopted from the national Guidelines, but must be at least as stringent as their federal counterparts.  Tritium is also part of Health Canada's current reassessment of "Radiological Characteristics in Drinking Water".

As well, Health Canada is proposing a new Guideline for Organically-Bound Tritium (OBT) at 3,000 Becquerels per Litre.

How does Ontario’s Standard for Tritium in Drinking Water compare to other jurisdictions?

In January, 2008, the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC) released a report entitled “Standards and Guidelines for Tritium in Drinking Water” which endeavours to compare Canada’s Drinking Water Quality Guideline for Tritium in drinking water (and subsequently Ontario’s Standard) with various jurisdictions around the world. You can view the document at:


What information is available on Tritium in Drinking Water?

Although not an exhaustive list by any means, some of the information available on Tritium with respect to drinking water includes:


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