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Bentley Argues Water Safe Although No Standards Set

SASKATCHEWAN INDIAN      APRIL 1977      v07 n04 p11  
The director of the Saskatchewan medical services branch of the department of health and welfare said late last month the radon gas-impregnated water on Red Earth reserve is safe to drink.

Dr. Claude (Pip) Bentley said he received a letter from the radiation protection bureau in Ottawa which assures him the water is safe to drink.

But the letter, which was made available to the Saskatchewan Indian, acknowledges that health authorities do not have sufficient information to make a proper judgement on the safety of radon in drinking water.

The letter, from A. H. Booth, director of the radiation protection bureau, said "the radiation dose to the gut (from radon gas in water) while undoubtedly small, needs to be evaluated more thoroughly than it has in the past."

Radon gas, at levels 70 to 225 times the level considered safe for other radioactive elements, was discovered in one Red Earth reserve well in a survey conducted by the Indian minerals division of the department of Indian affairs.

No standards have been set for radon gas in water because it rarely occurs that way, the letter from Booth said.

"Because the ingestion of radon gas in water is considered to be a negligible source of radiation, the International Radiological Protection 'Commission does not set maximum permissible concentrations," the letter stated.

Maximum permissible concentrations' of radon gas in air have been established. Radon gas has been definitively linked to the development of cancer among uranium miners.

Booth's letter noted the United States Environmental Protection Agency is now preparing recommendations for maximum permissible levels in water, and "we are also preparing recommendation."

Despite the absence of standards, the letter said once "the data has been explained to the Red Earth Indians there should be no apprehension about the radiological quality of the water from the wells on the reserve.

Dr. Claude Bentley
Dr. Claude Bentley, director of the Saskatchewan medical services branch of the department of national health and welfare, says he believes the radioactive water on Red Earth reserve is safe. But officials in Ottawa acknowledge that there are no maximum permissible standards for radon gas in water.

It may be harder to overcome alarmist views expressed by others," the letter added.

The radon gas discovery has set off a flurry of mineral claim-staking near the Red Earth reserve.

The Red Earth band staked a claim of 3,750 acres and took out helium exploration permits.

Private mining interests have also shown considerable interest in the area, staking about 30,000 acres adjacent and south of the reserve.

The presence of radon gas indicates a uranium ore body may be in the vicinity.

Les Beck, director of the department of mineral resources' geological survey, said there was some exploration activity in the area in 1974 when an airborne radiometric survey revealed a radioactive anomaly in the Pasquia Hills, lying to the south of Red Earth.

Now the radon gas discovery has rekindled interest in the area, Beck said.

Any minerals discovered under the Red Earth reserves would be the property of the band, which holds all mineral rights by law.

Beck said it would not be unusual to find uranium in the sedimentary rocks underlying the reserve. From 75 to 80 per cent of the world's uranium is now mined from sedimentary beds.

But all of Saskatchewan's uranium discoveries to date have been made in the northern pre-cambrian shield which consists mainly of metamorphic rocks.

It is possible the radon gas found at Red Earth is being channelled up from pre-cambrian rock lying beneath the sedimentary beds, Beck said.