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'Is our community safe?'

Kingston Whig-Standard: Tobi Cohen; Peter Cameron - November 13, 2007

Radioactive chemicals from decades of uranium refining operations in a town just
east of Toronto - the site of the largest cleanup of radioactive soil in North
American history - are making their way into humans, a new medical study
commissioned by frustrated area residents has found.

According to the Port Hope Community Health Concerns Committee, urine samples
collected from participants in the small Ontario town and analysed at a
radioisotope lab in Germany were found to contain radioactive substances the
government and the companies involved have "never admitted even exist in Port
Hope."

Details of the study will be released today.

Fearing increased rates of cancer and other ailments, the community group teamed
up with the Uranium Medical Research Centre, an independent clinical research
group, to conduct medical tests on area residents.

Residents had to take matters into their own hands because the federal
government has thus far refused to do its own comprehensive health study, said
spokesman John Miller.

"All the people who live there really want to know, 'Is our community safe,' and
the assurances that 'It's probably safe,' are just not convincing to us," said
Miller, whose lived in the community for 12 years.

"Port Hope has been exposed to radioactivity for about 70 years - longer than
almost anyone in the world - from man-made ceramized, insoluble uranium and for
there never to have been health tests in all that time is ludicrous."

Port Hope is currently home to the Cameco uranium refinery, which processes
uranium hexafluoride for U.S. nuclear reactors. It's subsidiary, Zircatec
Precision Industries, is the main supplier of uranium dioxide fuels to the
Canadian CANDU nuclear reactors.

It used to be the site of a Crown corporation called Eldorado Nuclear Ltd.,
which developed material used in the nuclear bombs dropped on Japan in 1945.

Port Hope was classified as an area of low-level historic waste as it was
contaminated at a time when radiation was not seen as a severe threat to human
and animal health.

Uranium refinery operations are believed to be responsible for contaminating
some 3.5 million cubic meters of soil which now lies under homes, schools, farm
fields and the local harbour.

Toxic elements that have been found in the area include above-average levels of
the radioactive metals radium and uranium, as well as arsenic, radon and lead.

But Glenn Case of the Low-Level Radioactive Waste Management Office, which is
handling the cleanup for Natural Resources Canada, said earlier studies found no
need to conduct human testing.

Citing a 1994 study that looked at the potential for ground and surface water
contamination and the likelihood of exposure to humans, Case said the study
found there were no "short-term health risks" and that radiation levels were
well within acceptable standards.

He refused to comment on the community group's medical study until he's had a
chance to review it.

While government studies suggest overall cancer rates aren't out of the norm,
Miller said that's not the case for all forms of the disease including childhood
leukemia and bone cancer.

Miller, who himself suffers from high blood pressure, said there's also been a
high incidence of hypertension-related deaths in the community.

"I have no idea whether that's been caused by anything remotely connected with
the nuclear industry, but it seems to me somebody should be trying to find out,"
he said.

"All we know is that this stuff is present in people's bodies."

The community group suggested the study calls into question federal guidelines
and standards used to monitor radiation exposure and protect workers and
communities.

Miller, who also founded the group Families Against Radiation Exposure, said
he's particularly concerned since Cameco has a number of projects pending.

One of them involves remediation at a plant that was forced to shut down in July
after it was discovered that uranium and arsenic were leaking into the soil.

He's also worried about what safeguards are being implemented to ensure
radioactive dust that will no doubt be "stirred-up" during the cleanup doesn't
pose any further harm.

An environmental assessment found there to be no significant issues associated
with dust from the cleanup which is expected to take six or seven years, Case
said.

Noting the project is still in the licensing phase, he said it will likely be
another two years before soil removal actually begins.

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