Lily Lee, EPA Cleanup Project Manager, Superfund Division
Interviewed on February 8, 2017 at a community meeting on the cleanup problems and fraud at the San Francisco Superfund site. The Superfund site is located at the former Hunters Point Naval Shipyard and Naval Radiological Defense Laboratory.
Ms. Lee was interviewed by Labor Video Project, and then asked questions by Dan Hirsch, UCSC Executive Director on Environmental and Radioactive Policy, on the cleanup and EPA exposure guidelines. Her answers, as Superfund Cleanup Project Manager, are surprising.
This is why these agencies organize “poster” open house format meetings. They do not want to be asked these important questions in front of an audience, and they certainly don’t want to be forced to answer. Of course, as public employees, they don’t want to be seen as avoiding or stonewalling, and they certainly don’t want to go on the record admitting negligence or indifference in implementing rules.
In a meeting in another town on a public health issue, members of the public refused to put up with this style of format. They pulled chairs into the center of the room, sat down as a group, and demanded to have a presentation made to them as a whole. Rather than do that, the people in charge gathered up their materials and walked out. Unless forced, they will not submit to a regular meeting format.
Interview of Lily Lee, EPA, begins at 29:13
This transcript begins toward the end of her interview with Labor Video Project
Lee: …We are here to say that I am doing my job every day the same way I have been and I will keep doing so to ensure that the cleanup here is meeting all of the health-based standards
LVP: I understand that 50% of the black population, African-American population, their children have asthma and other toxins from living out here. Is that of concern to you?
Lee: What we do here is that we set the standards for cleanup based on health-protective levels and then we ensure that when the Navy’s cleanup is happening, both during the process and when they’re done, that it meets our health-based standards to protect people from health conditions such as asthma.
[“Health-protective levels” and “health-based standards” — The EPA has repeatedly loosened exposure guidelines for radioactivity which they acknowledge increases the percentage of the population that will develop cancer. If the EPA uses these terms often enough, do they believe they will become accurate?
Her following interchange with Dan Hirsch reveals that she does not enforce EPA’s own standards, and she further says that steady exposure to radiation at the level of 25 millirem is something the body can cope with.]
Hirsch: Did the EPA’s criteria in effect at that time — I’m not talking about doing an analysis years later that it wasn’t that big of a mistake — why was the mistake made in the first place? Why did EPA allow clean-up standards that were contradicting EPA’s then current standards?
Lee: And again, I wasn’t there at that time and I tried to look for records about this information, and I’ve unfortunately not been able to find those records, but what I can tell you is that I am looking at the current standards, the current PRG calculator which is unfortunately in flux right now, and we are looking to see, revisit these standards to determine whether or not they would fall within the circle risk (?) range using site-specific factors.
Hirsch: I mean, you know you’re playing a game about this over and over again. The public was told you were cleaning up to a one in a million risk. You’ve seen EPA standards, but it turns out the Navy didn’t do that and used standards that are very much weaker than the ones that they said they would be using, and EPA said should be used at that time.
You’re now saying you’re seeing whether, okay it was a mistake but whether the mistake was mistake of a 300 fold. That isn’t very reassuring to the public.
I want to come back to the central issue. Do you agree that 25 millirems should not have been used, that was, even at the time, something the EPA said that was not acceptable and not protective.
Lee: I want to explain that some of the language that you saw in the footnotes referenced the 25 millrems but wasn’t necessarily the only standard that the Navy would be required to meet that
Hirsch (interrupting): In the tables, they actually estimate the dose for the other standard that they met, and for several of those, that was 25 millirem. So they actually did use 25 millirem. They shouldn’t have
Lee (interrupting) ___waste?
Hirsch: And structures.
Lee: Okay, and structures.
Hirsch: And they’re not supposed to according to EPA guidelines.
That’s 12 chest x-rays a year. They’re saying it’s okay for people to get a chest x-ray a month from the moment of conception to the moment of birth. Even the EPA says that level of radiation is outside the upper limit of your acceptable risk range.
So do you concede that they used a cleanup number that EPA said, even at the time, should not have been used?
Lee: So, I would like to talk about the chest x-ray which is an acute dose meaning a dose that people would get in one situation during the chest x-ray itself as being different from what’s relevant here at the base which would be a dose that would be over time continuously across year. So that wouldn’t be something
Hirsch (interrupting): Your own agency says there is no difference. EPA formally said that getting a chest x-ray a month is no different than getting a thirtieth of a chest x-ray every day for those months. That there is no… It’s linear, so the rate at which you get it doesn’t matter.
You know that’s your own agency’s official position.
Lee: So, if you can get a small dose that’s over a period of time, your body does have some recovery and
Hirsch (interrupting): Excuse me, are you saying that EPA believes that radiation is potentially good for you – the hormesis theory? Or that, or are you also saying that the risk is not linear with dose? Because the official position of EPA is just the opposite of what you’ve just said.
Lee: So, thank you for sharing your perspective. I am saying that those kinds of exposures are different, and I am also saying as I have said before that we are looking at the original standards to see if under the current version of the PRG calculator which is going to be changed soon, that that will still fall within the national contingency plan superfund regulation range of acceptable.
Hirsch: I want you to answer once and for all whether the standards that they chose were consistent or inconsistent with EPA’s guidance in effect at the time they chose them. Not whether going back years later and trying to say whether it was a 300 fold mistake.
Was the standard chosen by the Navy and approved by the EPA inconsistent with EPA’s Superfund guidance in effect at the time?
Lee: And I’d let you know that I don’t have information about what the standards were in effect at the time and I’m going to go back and look at that information some more. I’ve done some research
Hirsch (interrupting): ___the 25 millirem was back then considered unacceptable? Back in 2013? Do you not know the ___ in 2013 is not acceptable? So why was 25 millirem allowed to be used?
Lee: As I said, we are going to be checking the current version of EPA calculator
Hirsch (interrupting): Why was a cleanup standard allowed to be used that was not consistent with your guidance? I’m not talking about whether a post doc analysis as to whether it is too huge a mistake. I’m talking about whether it was a mistake. 25 millirem, is it not today, and wasn’t it in 2013, outside the level that EPA said was protective? It was a level that EPA said should not be used for cleanup standards. Am I not right about that?
Lee: I will go back and check to make sure.
Hirsch: Don’t you know that 25 millirem EPA has always, has said for long periods of time and certainly in the last years, is not to be used at Superfund sites?
Lee: I have seen that guidance information before.
Hirsch: Alright. Well, then, let’s just admit, can’t you, that they used a cleanup standard that was incompatible with Superfund guidance in effect at the time. Can you admit that?
Lee: As I said, I will go back and check that information.