Tritium in Surface Water

Fermilab map

Fermilab has conducted an environmental monitoring program on site for roughly 40 years. In November of 2005, for the first time, we detected low levels of tritium in Indian Creek, one of three creeks that travel through the Fermilab site. Low but measurable levels of tritium continue to be detected in Indian Creek. All tritium levels found on site are well below any federal health and environmental standards.

The Department of Energy standard for surface water is 1,900 picocuries per milliliter, and our readings to date have remained in the single digits. The levels of tritium detected in Indian Creek are extremely low compared to what is safe for a lifetime of continuous exposure to tritium in surface water.

The low levels of tritium in Indian Creek stem from particle beams produced in an accelerator tunnel on site for neutrino experiments. Water with low levels of tritium is pumped out of the accelerator tunnel and used in our cooling systems and ponds. A small amount of this water flows off-site via Indian Creek and eventually ends up in the Fox River. The low levels we measure as Indian Creek leaves our site are diluted to undetectable levels as the creek gathers water from other sources, before flowing into the Fox River. The amount of tritium that Fermilab adds to the Fox River is less than that added naturally by rainwater.

Fermilab regularly samples the water from Indian Creek, Kress Creek and Ferry Creek, and the results of those samples are posted on this site. While low levels of tritium are expected to remain detectable in surface water on the site, Fermilab is actively working to keep levels as low as reasonably achievable. This web page contains more information about what we've done since 2005 to keep those levels low.

If you have any questions about tritium at Fermilab, please call the Office of Communication at 630-840-3351, or submit a question online.