Toronto uranium processing facility says its record is clean
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Fighting back against growing community concern, the owner of a uranium processing facility says its record is clean and its own employees consider it so safe they feel comfortable living nearby.
Local politicians, however, are mounting campaigns to review the General Electric-Hitachi nuclear plant which, despite standing in the Lansdowne Ave. and Dupont St. area for about 50 years, has faced backlash in recent weeks after neighbourhood residents previously unaware of its existence were notified by an environmental activist from Peterborough.
GE Canada spokeswoman Kim Warburton emphasized Thursday the facility, which opened in the early 1960s, has never been reprimanded by federal regulators for health or safety infractions. Moreover, she said, “a number” of the plant’s roughly 53 employees live nearby.
GE Canada completes annual in-house safety compliance reports of the Toronto site and the company is regulated and licensed by the federal Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission, which inspects the site quarterly.
The City of Toronto says the company voluntarily submits environmental reviews to Toronto Public Health, without legal requirement to do so.
“They do monitoring for soil samples and ambient air that comes out of the stack,” said Barbara Lachapelle, an environmental health officer at Public Health. “We’ve looked at their reports and based on what they’ve submitted and the data that they’re reporting, it appears that all their emissions appear within the acceptable limits.”
According to GE Canada’s 2011 compliance report, uranium air emissions reached 9.3 grams last year after hitting 16.6, a five-year high, in 2010. The federally regulated annual discharge limit is 760 grams.
Toronto Public Health does not track uranium as a priority substance in its three-year-old online database ChemTRAC, which catalogues chemical emissions by city businesses.
Monica Campbell, the agency’s healthy public policy director, said the uranium does not register as a significant health concern in the city — unlike, say, lead or nitrogen oxides — and further inspection of the plant would be redundant.
“We rely on (federal regulators) to ensure the facility is acting appropriately,” she said. “We’re trying not to duplicate work by others.”
But regardless of the plant’s apparent safety, local politicians are worried about how little residents know about its existence and operation.
The facility, which produces nearly 2,000 tonnes of radioactive uranium dioxide pellets each year, reports to the National Pollutant Release Inventory and the provincial Environment ministry.
GE Canada, formerly known as Canadian General Electric, began processing uranium pellets in the early 1960s when the neighbourhood was a crowded industrial zone. Over the decades, however, factories gave way to condominium townhouses and lofts in the newly urbanized Davenport Village.
The Lansdowne facility receives “three, maybe four” truckloads of uranium dioxide powder each month from a plant in Port Hope, Warburton said.
Ward 17 councillor Cesar Palacio said he intends to bring a notice of motion to city council later this month supporting any move by MP Andrew Cash (NDP-Davenport) pushing for a federal review of the plant.
“Given we have a new (urban) community, is it the right place for this kind of operation?” Palacio said. “This is one of the issues where you just wonder.”
Cash, who has been reviewing the plant for three weeks, told the Star he has raised concerns with the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission. Both he and Palacio are set to tour the plant next Tuesday.
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