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McGuinty under fire for not disclosing elevated radiation levels

Ontario premier Dalton McGuinty is scrummed after a press conference by Ontario ombudsman Andre Marin that blasted the powers granted to police by McGuinty's during the G20 Summit in Toronto the past summer. Police had stated that people were not allowed within five metres of a security fence when in fact this was false and this info only came to light after the summit had already ended.

Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail/Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail

The Ontario government came under fire from opposition members on Wednesday for failing to tell the public about elevated levels of radiation detected in the province following Japan's nuclear disaster.

But Premier Dalton McGuinty said the last thing he wants to do is "alarm" families in Ontario, especially when the radiation levels detected in this country as a result of Japan's stricken nuclear reactors are too small to pose a health risk to Canadians.

"There is no danger associated with their food," he said in Question Period. "There's no danger associated with their water, there's no danger associated with their milk, there's no danger associated with the air, there's no danger associated with the environment."

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However, New Democrats questioned government ministers for the second straight day on why they have not been more transparent with the public by publishing information on radiation levels in the air, water and food supply.

"This government totally dropped the ball," NDP Leader Andrea Horwath said in Question Period.

Federal and provincial authorities released a flurry of news releases on Tuesday, after the New Democrats said the Environmental Protection Agency in the United States reported last weekend that milk from Little Rock, Ark. and drinking water from Philadelphia contained the highest levels of radioactive isotope iodine-131.

Health Canada initially detected that some radioactive material had travelled thousands of kilometres from Japan to Canada's west coast on March 18, spokeswoman Leslie Meerburg said in an e-mail response to questions from The Globe and Mail. This was one week after a magnitude 9.0 earthquake struck off the northeast coast of Japan, killing more than 10,000 people and crippling the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant.

Health Canada said in a news release that the amount of radioactivity released into this country's environment from Japan is too small to pose a health risk to Canadians.

A five-hour airplane flight from Montreal to Vancouver exposes an individual to 50,000 times more radiation than the level detected in Canada as a result of the earthquake in Japan, the agency said. And those levels also pose no health risks for air travellers, Ms. Meerburg said.

The agency routinely monitors radiation levels and provides updated information every Monday, Wednesday and Friday on its website.

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France Gélinas, health critic for the NDP, asked government ministers on Tuesday if they were testing the province's milk supply for radiation in the wake of the EPA report. Instead of answering the question, Energy Minister Brad Duguid accused her of "fearmongering."

In fact, Greg Dennis, a spokesman for the Labour Minister, confirmed to The Globe that the government began testing milk for radiation levels on a weekly basis shortly after the earthquake in Japan. Previously, it conducted monthly testing.

The Ministry of Labour's Radiation Protection Services has also increased the frequency of testing - to weekly from monthly - for drinking water, precipitation and seasonal fruits and vegetables, Mr. Dennis said.

The average Canadian is exposed to between two and three millisieverts of radiation a year from elements in the environment, including rocks and soil. Canadians are also exposed to artificial sources of radiation. A CT scan, for example, can expose a person to between 5 and 30 millisieverts, levels that do not pose a health risk. However, chronic exposure to radiation over long periods can increase a person's risk of getting cancer.

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About the Author

Karen Howlett is a national reporter based in Toronto. She returned to the newsroom in 2013 after covering Ontario politics at The Globe’s Queen’s Park bureau for seven years. Prior to that, she worked in the paper’s Vancouver bureau and in The Report on Business, where she covered a variety of beats, including financial services and securities regulation. More

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