Analysis of Radioactivity in Water

Jun. 15 2015

Radioactivity can occur naturally in water due to dissolved uranium, thorium and their daughter isotopes. Health Canada’s Guidelines for Canadian Drinking Water Quality (2014) lists six radionuclides that may be detected in water. Health Canada has established maximum acceptable concentrations in drinking water for two natural and four artificial radionuclides and for total uranium in chemical form (analyzed using our standard analysis for metals).

Health Canada Guidelines

Bureau Veritas performs radiological testing of water samples for all provinces and territories following federal guidelines from Health Canada. The radionuclides most commonly detected in our radiological analysis of Canadian drinking water are:

  • Natural: Lead-210 (210Pb) and Radium-226 (226Ra)
  • Artificial: Tritium, Strontium-90(90Sr), Iodine-131(131I), and Cesium-137 (137Cs)

Our analysis can be used to evaluate potential health risks associated with water quality. The results provide a starting point to assess treatment system requirements and costs. Health Canada’s “Guidelines for Canadian Drinking Water Quality: Guideline Technical Document - Radiological Parameters” lists the Maximum Acceptable Concentrations (MAC) for radionuclides. There are special requirements for Ontario which are summarized in a separate section below.

Bureau Veritas recommends an initial screening for radioactivity by measuring gross alpha and gross beta activity. Compliance with Health Canada’s Guidelines may be inferred if the results for gross alpha and gross beta activity are less than 0.5 Bq/L and 1 Bq/L, respectively (226Ra for alpha activity; 90Sr for beta activity). The Bureau Veritas detection limits are below these levels unless the drinking water contains >300 mg/L of dissolved solids. When the gross alpha activity concentration exceeds 0.5 Bq/L or the gross beta activity concentration exceeds 1 Bq/L, Bureau Veritas will make recommendations for further sampling, identification and quantification of the specific radionuclides that are at the source of the elevated results.

Special Guidelines for Ontario

Bureau Veritas is the only commercial laboratory licensed by the Ontario Ministry of the Environment for radionuclide analysis on drinking water samples. Ontario drinking water samples require special handling. A special submission form is required for the analysis of water samples for human consumption in Ontario (unless the water supply is federally regulated).

Bureau Veritas provides measurements of over 70 radionuclides listed in the Ontario Safe Drinking Water Act. Specific requirements may vary by municipality, but we recommend starting with the “Ontario Radionuclide Screen” for gross alpha, gross beta and Tritium. Our services are offered to comply with O.Reg 170/03 and require the submission of Chain of Custody document BQL FCD-00080 “Drinking Water Chain of Custody Record for Radiological Parameters”.


All water samples for radioactivity analysis are processed by the Bureau Veritas laboratory in Mississauga, Ontario. Standard turnaround time (TAT) is 10 working days (2 weeks) from date of receipt at the lab. The turnaround time for 210Pb is typically 3 weeks and the TAT for multiple isotopes is 3-4 weeks.

Working with Bureau Veritas

Test protocols are conducted using proven technologies operated by the highly experienced Bureau Veritas scientists and technicians. With over 35 years of experience in radiological analysis, our experts can provide advice on applying the appropriate analytical method(s) to meet your requirements. Upon request, we can also customize analysis packages to meet your objectives.