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Playground uranium exposure “relatively safe” says Peterborough Medical Officer of Health.
Between March 4 to 6, the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission will hold a hearing at the Holiday Inn to determine if BWXT Nuclear Energy Canada is worthy of a ten year licence renewal and if that renewal will include permission to move their nuclear fuel fabrication operation from Toronto to Peterborough.
Peterborough Medical Officer of Health Dr. Rosanna Salvaterra has said that uranium is not a carcinogen and that it is “relatively safe.” Dr. Salvaterra is more concerned with increasing levels of toxic Beryllium found in the soil of the Prince of Wales School across from BWXT’s current operations on Monaghan Road.
According to Dr. Salvaterra, the soil concentrations of beryllium are increasing by levels which could exceed safety limits within a few years, and that air emissions of beryllium are “undetectable” and those findings “don’t jibe.”
A group of Trent PhDs who live near the plant are concerned that beryllium in the Prince of Wales playground would “likely be driven by significant increases in air concentrations.”
Dr. Salvaterra has suggested that there be more “robust” and independent monitoring of BWXT’s environmental emissions and that BWXT develop a community liaison committee to better communicate with the locals.
Those are good suggestions but at a past CNSC meeting, when asked to explain their emissions monitoring estimates, BWXT’s predecessor, GE-Hitachi, told the commission that their self-reported emissions estimates were verified by an independent third party. When asked who that independent third party was, their response was that the name of the independent third party is “considered proprietary commercial information.”
BWXT’s community liaison committee doesn’t inspire much transparency either, as is the case in Toronto, community members must apply to be selected by BWXT to join the committee and the committee is made up of nuclear industry insiders and a small minority of residents who support BWXT.
A statement from Dr. Cathy Vakil of the Canadian Physicians for the Environment and Dr. Gordon Edwards of the Canadian Coalition for Nuclear Responsibility argues, “Children should not have to inhale uranium particles.”
According to Vakil and Edwards, contrary to Dr. Salvaterra’s claims that uranium is not a carcinogen, they point to the International Agency for Research on Cancer which states “Internally deposited radionuclides that emit alpha particles are carcinogenic to humans.”
Vakil and Edwards argue that illnesses including cancer caused by environmental factors can be eliminated and avoided, and that the children of the Prince of Wales School will be most affected by possibly inhaling particles of alpha radiation emitting uranium, “particulates smaller than the finest human hair can be inhaled into the deepest parts of the lung… irradiating the sensitive tissues.”
Torontonian Ashlynn Foster wrote an intervention to the CNSC about BWXT’s pelleting factory directly across the street from the building she lives in. Two years ago Foster lost her best friend, Karen Eisenberg, to cancer. Foster writes, “She moved into the same building that I live in now and died within a couple years of her move. It is and will always be unclear what caused a healthy, 30 year old woman to die of cancer, but what is perfectly clear is that Karen was never informed that she was living next to a uranium processing plant. She was unaware that she was breathing in the particles that could have potentially led to her death each and every day as she walked her dog past the plant, grocery shopped across the street from it, and even relaxed at home.”
Development of condominium towers is rapidly encroaching on the Toronto facility, and Liberal MP for Davenport, Julie Dzerowicz told the Toronto Star, that “over time, an my preference is sooner than later, I would love to see the uranium pelleting out of the riding and out of the city to a different location.”
Dzerowicz added, “I’m not suggesting they move to Peterborough.”
In an essay, “Being with the Land, Protects the Land” Leanne Betasamosake Simpson writes, “My neighbors are concerned about the long-term health and environmental impacts of rising beryllium and uranium in our gardens and backyard, along with the accumulated effects of the degradation of our environment, climate change and an ever-increasing exposure to industrial contaminants.”
The science is contested, with Citizens Against Radioactive Neighbourhoods (CARN) saying the risks are not worth the benefits and the industry and regulator saying they are. BWXT claims that the safety of people, workers and the environment is their number one priority and the CNSC staff have already recommended to the commission that BWXT be granted the ten year licence renewal with permission to conduct pelleting operations in Peterborough.
It is up to the people of Peterborough to become informed and arrive at their own conclusions.
But the question remains, if BWXT’s neighbours don’t wish to move and don’t wish to live near it, what if any are the mechanisms for them to shut it down?