Tritium in sanitary sewers

As part of our environmental monitoring program, we routinely sample our sanitary sewer water that is discharged to wastewater treatment systems in the cities of Batavia and Warrenville. Samples taken from sanitary sewer water discharged to the Batavia Wastewater Treatment Facility show small but measurable levels of tritium. All tritium levels found on site are well below any federal health and environmental standards. No tritium has been detected in sanitary sewer water discharged from Fermilab to the city of Warrenville.

Fermilab discharges an average of 61,015 gallons of sewer water to the wastewater treatment facility in Batavia each day. The lab has conducted environmental monitoring of the sanitary sewer water since the mid-1990s. In 2005, we detected low levels of tritium in our sanitary sewers for the first time. To date, the annual average level detected in the sanitary sewer water discharged to the city of Batavia is roughly 5-to-10 picocuries per milliliter (pCi/ml). The lab has to meet a DOE requirement of discharging less than five curies (or five million million picocuries) of tritium total per year, and the annual load (based on the discharge volumes and the plotted concentrations) in 2023 was less than 0.3 curies.

Sanitary sewer water that is treated in Batavia's wastewater treatment facility is discharged into the Fox River. While there is no treatment that will remove tritium from water, the low levels we measure in our sanitary sewers are diluted to undetectable levels by the time they reach the Fox River (click on graphic to view larger). The amount of tritium that Fermilab adds to the Fox River is less than that added naturally by rainwater.

Fermilab takes the release of tritium seriously, and is not satisfied with merely meeting regulatory requirements. The lab's Tritium Task Force, comprising physicists and engineers from across the laboratory, is actively investigating the sources of tritium in the sewer water and determining how to minimize it.

The lab routinely takes samples from the sanitary sewer water, and we will post those readings on this page.

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