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Fermi: Tritium levels in water not an issue

Updated: June 29, 2012 9:07AM

Tritium levels in the water at Fermilab remain within environmental standards, Fermi officials say.

Tritium is a radioactive bi-product of hydrogen. It has been produced at the site for 35 years. In 2005, tritium was detected in the surface waters for the first time. The levels were below regulatory limits. In 2012, it is still detectable, but remains at low levels, according to Eric Mieland, with Fermilab’s Environment, Safety and Health section.

“We’re constantly looking to minimize the amount of radiation that’s produced,” Mieland said.

Mieland and Fermilab Communication Director Katie Yurkewicz gave a presentation to the Kane County Energy and Environmental Committee Wednesday. Tritium is a form of radiation that cannot penetrate the skin, Yurkewicz said. It does not accumulate in the body when ingested. Drinking water with high levels of tritium over many years can pose a cancer risk, though it would take higher levels than what was found at Fermilab, she said.

Fermilab makes an effort to use all the water that falls onto the property for cooling purposes, Mieland said. The measurements of tritium can also depend on how much rain has occurred in the area. The tritium was discovered in Indian Creek, which starts on the 6,800 acre site, and meanders through a residential subdivision before emptying into the Fox River near the Aurora train station. Mieland said that they have never discovered any measurable tritium outside the Fermilab site.

“By the time it’s leaving the site boundary, it’s heavily diluted,” he said.

Tritium measurement results are available on the website for residents who live near Indian Creek.

The detectable levels coincided with the start of a new project, creating beams of neutrinos, a type of particle. The project is ongoing, but they are taking measurements to reduce the impact on the area, Mieland said.

The lab also recently closed down the largest particle accelerator on site. Yurkewicz is hoping Fermilab will eventually open it up for public viewing.

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