Summary of Port Hope Health Studies

Health Canada has conducted eight health studies in Port Hope in the past twenty years, and all of them have been peer reviewed.

These studies include:

  • Cancer Incidence in Port Hope, 1971-1996 (2000)

    This review shows that the numbers of total cancer cases in Port Hope are within the expected values, based on provincial cancer rates. There was no evidence of increased leukemia rates in either adults or children in Port Hope.
  • Cancer and General Mortality in Port Hope, 1956-1997 (2002)

    Again, this review shows that the numbers of total cancer deaths in Port Hope are within the expected values, based on provincial cancer rates. Again, there were no increase leukemia rates in either adults or children in Port Hope. This study did find some increase in circulatory disease; however this is not a result of Port Hope's environmental factors.
  • Great Lakes Health Effects Program, Port Hope Harbour Area of Concern: Health Data and Statistics for the Population of the Region (1986-1992) (1998)

    This statistical study considered mortality, morbidity, cancer incidence, and birth anomalies in the Port Hope area. The study found no significant difference in either cancer incidence or birth health from the rate of the overll Ontario population.
  • A Study of Childhood Leukaemia Around Canadian Nuclear Facilities (1989)

    The occurrence of leukemia deaths and incident leukemia cases in children between 0-4 years was studied. No increased risk to children living near nuclear power plants or uranium mining, milling, and refining sites was detected.

Several studies have also been conducted by other institutions and organizations, such as the Government of Canada's Low Level Radioactive Waste Management Office, Senes Consulting, and Queens University. These studies have been peer reviewed, and many have been published in respected scientific journals.

As well, reports by the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission and the Public Health Agency on cancer incidence and overall mortality in Port Hope were extensively reviewed by members of several government departments and academic institutions.

The health and environmental studies carried out in Port Hope over the years do not show any health effects from past or present exposure to radiation.

Additional peer reviewed journal references relevant to Port Hope and completed by Health Canada include:

Tracy, B.L., Meyerhof, D.P. Uranium concentrations near a Canadian uranium refinery. Atmospheric Environment, 21, 265-172, 1987

Ahier, B., Tracy, B.L. Uranium emission in Port Hope, Ontario. Journal of Environmental Radioactivity, 34(2), 187-205, 1996

Tracy, B.L., Prantl F.A., Quinn J.M. Transfer of 226Ra, 210Pb and Uranium from soil to produce assessment of risk. Health Physics, 44(5), 469-477, 1983

Questions and Answers

Q. Is background radiation in Port Hope elevated?
Background radiation in Port Hope is within the range found in other Canadian communities. Radon exposure in Port Hope is about 0.6 millisieverts (mSv)/yr, this is comparatively lower than the average radon exposure in Canada of 0.92 mSv/yr. Uranium in Port Hope's air is also monitored, the level varies between about 0.3 - 6 nanograms of uranium per cubic meter of air. Levels below 100 nanograms of uranium per cubic meter of air are not considered to be of health concern.

Q. Is radium leaching out of Port Hope's various waste sites into the environment (rivers, streams)?
Health Canada monitors the drinking water in Port Hope for uranium and radium. The levels of radium in drinking water for the years 1993-2003 were generally below detection limits. Drinking water samples with measurable values ranged between 0.0024 to 0.0081 Becquerels per litre. These values are far below the Canadian guideline for radium-226 in drinking water of 0.6 Becquerels per litre.

The monitoring program in Port Hope was stopped in 2003 based on scientific evidence that the levels of radionuclides in the area were below Health Canada's guideline, and, therefore, not harmful to human health. In response to increasing public concerns about the safety of the community, Health Canada installed a permanent monitoring station for air in Port Hope in 2009, and the monitoring program for water resumed in 2010.

The data from the air monitoring station for the first half of 2010 shows radioactivity levels consistent with what is measured elsewhere in Canada.

The results from the 2009 and 2010 air and water monitoring will be available in early 2011, and future results will be available on a quarterly basis.

Q. Is Port Hope's drinking water impacted by the location of Cameco and the water treatment plant?
Health Canada has been monitoring uranium levels in Port Hope's drinking water, which is taken from Lake Ontario. The levels have been consistently less than one microgram per litre, which is typical of urban drinking water supplies across Canada. The Canadian guideline for uranium in drinking water is 20 micrograms per litre.

Q. What is the incidence of congenital malformations in Port Hope?
In the Port Hope Synthesis Report (2009), six studies were included which looked at birth defects, childhood cancer, and infant mortality. There were no significant excesses in birth defects, childhood cancer, or infant mortality in Port Hope. This Synthesis report was extensively reviewed by government departments and academic institutions.
The Port Hope Synthesis Report is available online through the CNSC website.

Q. Are the levels of uranium in Port Hope's air a health concern?
The levels of uranium in Port Hope's air have been monitored both by Health Canada and by Cameco. The results of both sets of measurements are consistent. The levels vary from about 0.3 to 6 nanograms of uranium per cubic metre of air. Levels below 100 nanograms per cubic metre are not considered to be of health concern.

Q. What is the impact of "internal emitters" of radiation?
We are all internally exposed to radiation, as it is present naturally in the food we eat and the water we drink. All human beings have "internal emitters" in them, for example, in the form of radioactive potassium. We all have a trace amount of potassium-40 in our body, so the body can cope with small amounts of radioactivity. The only time it is a concern is when a large amount of "internal emitters" enter the body.

A person can become internally exposed to radiation by inhalation or ingestion. The health studies in Port Hope show no health effects to the residents. Drinking water and air monitoring show radiation levels in Port Hope to be within those of other Canadian communities, and well below Canadian guideline levels.

As to whether internal emitters are more dangerous than X-rays, several factors are taken into consideration when calculating radiation doses, for example, whether the emitter is internal or external, how long it remains in the body, and what type of radiation it emits. Thus, the final dose in millisieverts is a good indicator of the total hazard of the radiation.
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