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Radiation levels should prompt federal study, expert says; Port Hope residents undergo series of tests

The Toronto Star: Peter Gorrie - Wednesday, November 14, 2007

New tests that show radiation contamination in a few Port Hope residents should compel the federal government to put the town under a health microscope, local advocates say.

The results, while involving only a handful of people, "are the tip of the iceberg," Tedd Weyman, deputy director of an independent group called the Uranium Medical Research Centre, which conducted the study, told a news conference yesterday.

The study found small levels of radioactive elements in the urine of four of nine people who were tested, including a child under age 14.

"You've got almost 50 per cent of the people showing contamination," Weyman said. "You'd think (federal regulators) would see this as an alarming statistic and do further studies."

Federal Health Minister Tony Clement said in a statement that he has directed officials to assess the report and provide advice on how to proceed. Port Hope - a picturesque community on Lake Ontario, east of Toronto - is home to a Cameco uranium plant that produces fuel for nuclear generating stations, and Zircatec Precision Industries Ltd., which makes fuel bundles for Candu reactors.

It also produced uranium for the American military.

From the 1930s to '80s, low-level radioactive waste was not considered a health hazard and was used as fill. That waste is believed to have contaminated about 1.5 million cubic metres of soil now under homes, schools, farm fields and the harbour, and the town is to undergo a $260 million cleanup.

 

The citizens' group says previous local studies have found higher than expected rates of several diseases, including cancers and respiratory ailments. Government officials say those tests show no excess cancer deaths.

The federal government and its agency, the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission, haven't tested for contamination in area people.

 

Yesterday's findings came after a local group, the Port Hope Community Health Concerns Committee, raised $11,000 - enough to test four former workers at the uranium plants and five local residents. For comparison, two "control" people from outside the town were also studied.

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