The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is considering approval of a plan designed to dramatically increase permissible radiation contamination levels in food, water and soil after radiation events, including spills and dirty bomb attacks.
The Office of Radiation and Indoor Air (ORIA), the radiation extension of the EPA, has prepared a revision to the 1992 “Protective Action Guides” (PAG) that governs radiation protection conclusions on short-term and long-term cleanup levels, Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) reports.
Vigorously opposed by some agency experts, the plan is being discussed behind closed doors, notes PEER. “This critical debate is taking place entirely behind closed doors because this plan is ‘guidance’ and does not require public notice as a regulation would,” said PEER attorney Christine Erickson in a news release.
“We all deserve to know why some in the agency want to legitimize exposing the public to radiation at levels vastly higher than what EPA officially considers dangerous,” Erickson added.
Internal documents obtained by PEER under a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit last autumn show that, under the updated PAG, a single glass of water could give the equivalent of a lifetime’s permissible exposure. According to PEER, the
new limits would cause a cancer in as much as every fourth person exposed.
In a January 2009 email to ORIA, Charles Openchowski of the EPA’s Office of General Counsel wrote: “[T]his guidance would allow cleanup levels that exceed MCLs [Maximum Contamination Limits under the Safe Drinking Water Act] by a factor of 100, 1000, and in two instances 7 million and there is nothing to prevent those levels from being the final cleanup achieved (i.e., it’s not confined to immediate response of emergency phase),” PEER notes.
The new PAG would also permit long-term cleanup limits that are thousands of times more lenient than previously accepted by the EPA.
In the news release, Stuart Walker of the EPA’s Office of Superfund Remediation and Technology Innovation, explained the new radiation limits: “It also appears that drinking water at the PAG concentrations...may lead to subchronic (acute) effects following exposures of a day or a week. In a population, one should see some express acute effects...that is vomiting, fever, etc.”
According to PEER, the EPA is still withholding thousands more communications. “EPA touts its new transparency but when it comes to matters of controversy the agency still puts up a wall,” said Erickson, who filed the FOIA lawsuit, the release notes. “Besides the months of stonewalling, we are seeing them pull stunts such as ORIA giving us rebuttals to other EPA documents they have yet to release.”
PEER sent EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson a letter on Tuesday that calls for more transparency and broader discussion on the proposed PAG.
According to a National Academy of Sciences 2005 report, there are no safe doses of low-level radiation and no exposure threshold below which radiation can be proven to be harmless. “The health risks -- particularly the development of solid cancers in organs -- rise proportionally with exposure,” said Richard R. Monson, chair of the NAS committee responsible for the report and professor at Harvard’s School of Public Health, Facing South reports.