Shitty water?

Dr. Jim Harding provides important information about Regina’s impact on the water downstream.  It ain’t pretty.





BY Jim Harding

For decades Regina’s poorly treated sewage has degraded eco-system health downstream in the Qu’Appelle Valley. Regina’s refusal to priorize modernizing its wastewater treatment means that people sometimes can’t swim safely, eat the fish or even boat.

The wellbeing of cottagers and those that make the valley their home is being disrespected. And there is no excuse; for years Peter Leavitt and his associates at the University of Regina have shown the major role Regina’s sewage plays in degrading this waterway. Meanwhile, rather than biting the bullet and upgrading the system, Regina politicians prefer to make a multi-million dollar new stadium their highest priority. Out of sight, out of mind!


Metal contamination increases with the growth of agriculture, industry and urbanization. Most of the catchment area for the Qu’Appelle River drainage basin includes industrial exposure – e.g. a steel plant, oil refinery, fertilizer plant and potash mine near Regina. Metal contamination from erosion is increased by agricultural tilling, irrigation and use of chemicals; coal plants and waste incineration send metals into the atmosphere which find their way into freshwater.

Metal pollutants accumulate in lake sediment and eventually enter aquatic food webs. Leavitt’s research suggests that small aquatic invertebrates in the Qu’Appelle system “may have been exposed to damaging levels of toxic metals for 100 years”. This research concludes that “overall, potential toxic metals from urban and industrial sources accumulate significantly within invertebrate diapausing (dormant) eggs, while less toxic metals preferentially accumulate in the sediment matrix”. The more toxic metals include cadmium, chromium and molybdenum.


Sediment analysis suggests that 70% of the nitrogen pollution in the Qu’Appelle waterways comes from Regina. (Most of the phosphorous likely comes from agriculture.) This elevated nitrogen influx results in heavy algal blooms which can elevate to toxic levels. This excessive algal growth can deplete oxygen levels in lakes and result in mass die off of fish and other aquatic organisms. Pasqua Lake, the first lake 175 km downstream from Regina, is the most heavily affected. In earlier research it was estimated that this fairly shallow lake contained about 300% more algae than in pre-colonial times; currently it’s estimated to be 500%. Most nitrogen gets sequestered in lake sediment but nutrients are passed downstream when saturation occurs, first to Echo Lake, then to Mission and on to Katepwa. This is chronic as I write!

There are other pollutants from Regina. Environment Canada found personal care products, like aspirin derivatives and some antibiotics downstream.


The last time Regina made a major upgrade of its wastewater plant was in 1977, to include tertiary treatment, i.e. “clarification” to remove phosphorous. Thirty-five years later this is no longer “state of the art” and the City has fallen behind the treatment standards of other prairie cities. City politicians have had other priorities, like Harbour Landing and a new Roughrider stadium.

I have some personal experience with this matter. When I was on Regina’s City Council in the mid-1990s, meeting at a session on capital budget, I raised planning for upgrading water treatment. I was told in no uncertain terms that with property reassessment coming, suburban taxes would increase and most councilors would lose their seats if we dared include these capital costs. Councilors agreed in word or by silence and the matter was dropped.

I’m not privy to how this was handled during Mayor Fiacco’s term. City officials claim they have budgeted for the wastewater upgrade, yet nothing significant has happened. The City is now looking at selling its poorly treated wastewater to a potash company south of Regina, while another potash company has indicated it wants to remove water directly from the Qu’Appelle lakes. What would all this “pragmatism” do to the flow and water quality of the Qu’Appelle lakes?

So here we are in 2012 with Regina the only major prairie city not to have upgraded its sewage treatment. The cost of doing this has continued to rise and could now be as much as $200 million. In its 2012 budget the City only budgeted $19.6 million for wastewater upgrades.


Aquatic eco-system protection simply must be implemented quickly. However Regina’s present Mayor and Council seem to be trying to end-run the electorate by approving much more spending to build a new Roughrider stadium without sufficient public input. Mosaic Stadium has just had a $14 million upgrade to prepare it for the 2013 Grey Cup. Then it’s going to be torn down. The proposed new stadium will have about the same seating capacity as Mosaic Stadium. Its total cost, including loan interest and maintenance over a 30 year period will be $675 million. This amount does not include cost overruns.

The province will contribute an $80 million grant and the Roughriders will only have to pay $25 million mostly from corporate sponsorships. According to Regina City Council’s funding plan, $300 million will come from the pockets of Regina taxpayers, who will be required to pay a 0.45% increase in property taxes each year for 10 years. Forced to foot the bill, how will Regina’s taxpayers view spending the millions needed to stop contaminating the Qu’Appelle Valley waterways?


Mayor Fiacco justified announcing the new stadium at a Roughrider game, saying that “users will pay”, suggesting that raising the facility fee for games by $4 will cover the provincial loan. Yet only $100 million of the total $675 million will likely come from this. Sounding a little like Prime Minister Harper, who also sidesteps democratic due process, he says “we were elected to make decisions”, while ignoring that stadium upgrades in 1977 came after a plebiscite. When asked about the fact that general taxes will go up, a City official spoke of “delivering a quality of life in Regina”, drawing an analogy to public transit which, like the stadium, is not used by everyone.


What about quality of life downstream from Regina’s effluent? What about municipal responsibility? When you go to the City’s web page there’s mention that an upgrade of sewage treatment will be required by 2016 (province) and 2020 (federal), yet no government grants are forthcoming for this. Why is the province spending $80 million for a Regina stadium and ignoring Regina’s sewage pollution?

The City is not stringently lobbying for such assistance. If anything it leaves the impression that the main problem with sewage treatment is persisting odour. It doesn’t mention its role in polluting the Qu’Appelle Valley lakes; this can reinforce disinformation such as the claim that “the lakes have always had high algae.” Based on a 1999 report it even alleges that “the City is a leader in treating wastewater”. Tell that to the residents and cottagers living along Pasqua or other Qu’Appelle Valley lakes.

The City’s diagram on waste treatment highlights its sediment removal, aerated lagoons, clarification and UV disinfecting and then ends abruptly, showing only an arrow for the discharge of its poorly treated effluent into Wascana Creek. For those living downstream this is where the contamination begins.

How did protecting eco-system health and a major recreational waterway become less important than a new football stadium? Is bread and circuses being allowed to squeeze out the quest for clean water and sustainability? We only can hope that this matter gets raised during Regina’s fall election.





Panel Discussion: nuclear, tar sands, our future

WHAT: “Nuclear Tar Sands, OUR Future: Making the Connections”

WHO: A panel discussion with
+ Eileen Bear, Committee for Future Generations
+ D’Arcy Hande, HUES3 Campaign
+ Cameron Fenton, Canadian Youth Climate Coalition
+ Megan Van Buskirk, Canadian Youth Delegation

WHEN: Tuesday, September 18 7:00 pm

WHERE: Room 2E25, Agriculture Building
University of Saskatchewan, Saskatoon

WHY?: Because we care!

Refreshments will be provided.

Quebec to shut down its only nuclear reactor


Quebec to shut down its only nuclear reactor

Quebec’s new government has confirmed it won’t proceed with the multibillion-dollar refurbishment of the province’s lone nuclear reactor and will instead shut it down.

A spokesman for incoming premier Pauline Marois gave the confirmation Tuesday, one day after the first public screening of a new film on the reactor that raises questions about its safety for people living nearby.

The government of outgoing Premier Jean Charest decided in 2008 to rebuild the Gentilly-2 nuclear plant at a cost of about $2 billion, but stopped work after the Fukushima disaster in Japan in 2011.

The PQ has committed since 2009 to close the generating station, which is located in Bécancour, Que., across the St. Lawrence River from Trois-Rivières.

Full story


Tritium in the Twilight Zone


Peterborough Pollution:
Tritium in the Twilight Zone
by Gordon Edwards, September 8, 2012
A Twilight Zone Fable 
(1) Picture, if you will, a small-town sheriff who sits dozing in his office for 18 years, ignoring alarms and wake-up calls, yet bragging that he will “never compromise public safety”.
(2) Imagine that same sheriff posting a speed limit of 34 million kilometres per hour, then claiming that no one in town is ever guilty of speeding because no one can possibly exceed that limit. 
(3) Now imagine that same individual freeing dangerous offenders, already safely secured in locked cells, letting them out through the back door at night so they can go about their nefarious business unobstructed. 
Strange events? Not really. 
You have just entered the Tritium Twilight Zone!


Radioactive Pollution in Peterborough
The people of Peterborough are experiencing an analogous series of Alice-in-Wonderland occurrences, where the role of sheriff is played by the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC).
This story deals with releases of radioactive tritium into the Peterborough environment. The source of pollution is a factory at the Peterborough Airport called SSI (Shield Source Incorporated). 
SSI manufactures glass tubes filled with radioactive tritium gas to make them glow in the dark.  Tritium — an unwanted radiotoxic byproduct of Ontario’s electricity-producing nuclear reactors — is notoriously difficult to contain.  For over 20 years SSI has been releasing, on average, more than a trillion becquerels of tritium into the environment every day.  (A Becquerel is a unit of radioactivity; it indicates that one radioactive disintegration is taking place every second.)


The Fable Illustrated with Facts
(1)  On August 24 2012, SSI issued a report (“Root Cause Investigation, Tritium Stack Emissions Reporting Discrepoancies”) revealing that for the last 18 years, the amount of tritium released annually has been 5 to 10 times greater than the amount reported to the nuclear regulator, CNSC. Indeed, yearly emissions of this radiotoxic gas from the SSI facility have been greater than those from any nuclear reactor in Canada – in 2011, about 1500 trillion becquerels per year.  That’s much higher than the very lax emissions standard of 500 trillion becquerels per year specified in the current CNSC licence. 


Over the years, there were several indications that SSI’s releases were higher than announced, but the numbers or the equipment were always “fixed” to hide the discrepancy.  For two decades CNSC failed to verify the validity of SSI’s reported emissions — and misled the public about this.  The CNSC’s “record of decision” from its 2009 public hearing on SSI says “CNSC staff stated that it conducts its own verifications to ensure that the monitoring data is reliable and that the monitoring program in place is acceptable.”
Protecting people and the environment from radioactive pollution is CNSC’s mandate, and CNSC claims to “never compromise safety”. But the record shows that CNSC has been asleep on the job for 18 years.


(2)  After SSI’s very large accidental release of 150 trillion becquerels of tritium gas in just a few minutes in February 2010, CNSC staff reported that this was “far below the licence release limits of 34 million TBq/year.”  [TBq = terabecquerel = one trillion becquerels]  
How could CNSC possibly make this statement, when the release limit is 500 trillion becquerels? 
Conveniently, the CNSC has included TWO release limits in SSI’s current licence – the 500 trillion becquerel limit calculated by the CNSC itself,  and a 34 MILLION trillion Becquerel “derived” limit calculated by SSI (which by the way was the ONLY limit prior to 2009!)  The far higher limit allows the CNSC to claim that SSI’s radioactive gas releases – whether “routine” or accidental” – are of no concern.
But that is 10,000 times higher than the yearly tritium releases from any nuclear reactor in Canada — a “limit” so enormous that it would be impossible for SSI or any other facility to exceed.  


Setting such a limit for tritium is like setting a speed limit of 34 million kph for cars, knowing that no vehicle will ever go that fast.


CNSC vows to keep radiation exposures and radioactive releases “As Low As Reasonably Achievable” – it’s called the “ALARA” principle.  But the Peterborough experience shows that CNSC prefers to follow the ‘Tritium LITE’ principle — by invoking a tritium “Limit Impossible To Exceed”.  (No polluter can exceed the speed of LITE!)  And CNSC seems to be following another unspoken rule, the ALANN principle: radioactive pollution is permissible “As Long As Nobody Notices”.


(3)  SSI buys its radioactive tritium from Darlington’s Tritium Removal Facility (TRF), which Ontario Power Generation (OPG) built in 1990 to isolate, sequester — and, in effect, imprison this radioactive pollutant in order to prevent it from further contaminating workers, the public or the environment.  
This tritium is man-made.  CANDU reactors use non-radioactive heavy water as moderator and coolant.  As the plants age there is a steady build-up of radioactive tritium within the heavy water – and as tritium concentrations go up, so do radiotoxic tritium exposures to workers and to the environment. So OPG periodically removes tritium from the heavy water and stores it as radioactive waste in the TRF.
    “To help keep workers safe, and to minimize the 
      amount of tritium going into the environment, 
      a tritium removal facility was opened at the 
      Darlington site in 1990. This plant extracts tritium 
      from heavy water used in OPG’s nuclear reactors. 
      The tritium is safely stored in stainless steel 
      containers within a concrete vault.”
However, CNSC gives SSI a licence to UNDO what the TRF does!  SSI is allowed to liberate tritium from OPG’s carefully engineered prison at TRF and spread that radioactive waste material far and wide, fabricating radioactive signs that are sent all over the world — many of them ending up in landfills — while spilling huge quantities of tritium into the Peterborough environment. 
We believe such counterproductive activity is irresponsible.  It should not be permitted, let alone licensed.  Tritium light manufacturing and SSI should be shut down permanently.


The Peterborough experience with tritium highlights a chronic lack of political oversight and public accountability in the nuclear field in Canada.  It reveals that CNSC is inadequate as a protector of people and the environment. And it underscores the need for a National Inquiry into the Future of Nuclear Power in Canada, as recommended by 65 organizations across Canada.


For more information on tritium pollution:
For the SSI Tritium Releases Report:
For more on the proposed Inquiry:
Gordon Edwards, Ph.D., President,
Canadian Coalition for Nuclear Responsibility, Montreal.
Tritium operations at SSI have been temporarily shut down since April 2012, when it was first revealed that radioactive emissions had been vastly underestimated for the years 2010 and 2011 — so much so that SSI was operating in clear violation of its CNSC licence during those two years.

IPPNW: Physicians’ recommendations for protecting health after Fukushima disaster

from the August 27th, 2012 Fukushima Symposium

International physicians’ recommendations

for protecting health after

the Fukushima nuclear disaster

International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War, Japan, 29 August 2012


FUKUSHIMA / TOKYO “Our most important obligation to the many harmed by the Fukushima disaster is to eradicate nuclear weapons and phase out nuclear power,” says Associate Professor Tilman Ruff, Co-President of IPPNW – International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War after a visit to Fukushima. Thirty physicians, medical students and scholars from the United States, Canada, United Kingdom, Germany, Finland, Israel, India, New Zealand and Australia visited Fukushima yesterday for an investigative tour.

The event was hosted by Physicians Against Nuclear War in Japan. The foreign experts have followed the Fukushima nuclear disaster with deep concern. In the past few days, they heard presentations by Japanese radiation, medical and nuclear engineering experts at the IPPNW 20th World Congress in Hiroshima and experts at a 27 August symposium in Tokyo.

The fundamental processes in nuclear reactors and nuclear weapons are the same. In 1998, IPPNW first took a clear position that on medical grounds nuclear power should be phased out. Nuclear power is unacceptably hazardous to health at all stages, risks catastrophic radiation releases, and is inextricably linked with the production of enriched uranium and plutonium which can be used for nuclear weapons, the greatest and most acute threat to global health.

The expert group made the following key recommendations for action to put the health and safety of people first in the continuing Fukushima nuclear disaster:

1. People living in contaminated regions should have access to full information on their likely radiation exposures and supported in all possible ways to minimize these. For those with anticipated annual exposure greater than 5 mSv, or more than 1mSv for children and women of child-bearing age, equitable and consistent access to health care, housing, employment and educational support and compensation should be provided if they choose to re-locate. The recent Nuclear Accident Child Victims Law is an important step in the right direction and should be effectively implemented as soon as feasible. All such measures should be based on actual radiation exposure levels and not distance. Every effort should be made to reduce exposures below 1 mSv per year as quickly as possible.

2. Early establishment of a comprehensive register of all likely to have been exposed to more than 1mSv of radiation from all sources as a result of the Fukushima disaster. This will include people in prefectures neighbouring Fukushima. This register should be linked with best estimates of radiation exposures since the disaster, and used as a basis for linkage with national data on mortality, cancer, congenital malformations and pregnancy outcome.

3. The group expressed concern for the health of the more than 20,000 workers who have worked at the Fukushima Daiichi plant since the earthquake, and the many more who will need to work there over the many decades it will take to decommission the damaged reactors and spent fuel ponds. They were disturbed by frequent reports of inadequate protection of workers and falsely low radiation exposure measurements. A lifetime radiation exposure register should quickly be established for all workers in the nuclear industry.

4. There has been regrettable misinformation disseminated, including by senior professionals and in school educational materials, downplaying the risks of radiation. The corrupting influence of the ‘nuclear village’ is widespread. Provision of accurate, independent, timely public information on radiation health is essential.

No effective treatment is possible for the catastrophic effects of a nuclear explosion or reactor disaster. When the imperative to prevent what cannot be controlled is so strong, it is clear that both nuclear weapons and nuclear power have no place in a safe, sustainable world.