Uranium in the water
The presence of natural uranium in some drilled wells on the Algonquin
reserve near Maniwaki and around the town shows that wells in the
Outaouais should be tested for the metal, the region's medical officer
of health said yesterday.
Yesterday, the Outaouais health department warned people in the
Upper Gatineau Valley to have their wells tested. But Dr. Lucie
Lemieux said wells should be checked across the Outaouais, because
she cannot guarantee wells elsewhere in the region are uranium-free.
Chief Jean-Guy Whiteduck said the Algonquins have known since the
mid-1990s that about one-third of the reserve's wells contain more
than the 20 parts per billion of uranium that Canadian drinking
water standards allow. He said some wells off the reserve near Maniwaki
contain up to 1,400 parts per billion. Other tests showed two types
of radium in some reserve wells. Health officials warn radium absorbed
by the body over time can cause bone cancer.
Dr. Lemieux said drinking water containing small quantities of uranium
can cause kidney problems, but such problems are reversible when
people consume water that is free of the metal.
"This story started a few years ago when Health Canada noticed
there was uranium in the water on the Kitigan Zibi reserve and recommended
that people drink bottled water," Dr. Lemieux said. "People
who were living around the reserve asked us what they should do.
"We don't know yet whether this is more widespread than just
the Upper Gatineau Valley.
"It is less likely to be a problem in Chelsea or Cantley, but
I can't say there is no uranium in wells there. If you have a private
well you should have the tests done."
Dr. Lemieux said private laboratories in the Montreal area can test
well water for uranium for about $50. She said property owners can
install filters to eliminate uranium from their water if the level
is too high.
A spokeswoman for Accutest Laboratories of Nepean said a uranium
test can be purchased for as little as $12.50, but there is a $20
minimum for general testing.
The Outaouais health department plans to provide information abouturanium
in well water on its website,www.santepublique-outaouais.qc.ca.
Lionel Whiteduck, the director of health and social services for
the Kitigan Zibi reserve 130 kilometres north of Gatineau said a
Quebec Ministry of Health warning that wells near Maniwaki should
be tested for uranium "tells only part of the story about well
Lionel Whiteduck said some wells contain radium. He said Health
Canada officials told the band they should not drink the water because
it could eventually cause bone cancer.
Federal government officials installed well water filters throughout
the reserve, but they later removed them when scientists discovered
they only concentrated the uranium.
"No one in the community is to consume the water for health
precautions," Mr. Whiteduck said. "We can't use it for
cooking, drinking or anything.
"One of the most important things that the province left out
of the warning is that when the government found uranium it also
found radium 226 and radium 228. In some wells where uranium was
almost absent they found radium and nobody is talking about radium."
Mr. Whiteduck said some families purified their water using reverse
osmosis, but the equipment became radioactive.
Indian Affairs advised the Algonquins to drink only bottled water
and warned all residents not to allow any animals to drink well
water. The department now supplies two 18-litre bottles of water
a week to each family on the reserve.
Rolland Duguay, Health Canada's manager of environmental health
services for aboriginal reserves in Quebec said uranium and radium
may be in many wells throughout the region.
"Given that our studies showed that the problem is far beyond
the reserve we have advised the public health people," Mr.
Duguay said. "The problem depends on the rock formation underground
and is not in every community.
"It goes beyond Kitigan Zibi and probably exists throughout
Mr. Duguay estimated the cost of a complete water test for radioactive
elements by a private laboratory at about $200.
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