— EPA tells public “no harmful health effects” from significant radiation exposure

From Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility – PEER

For Immediate Release: Oct 16, 2017
Contact: Kirsten Stade (202) 265-7337

PRUITT’S EPA: LEARNING TO LOVE RADIATION

Public Told “No Harmful Health Effects” from Significant Radiation Exposure


Washington, DC — In a startling public health reversal, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is now declaring that radiation exposures equivalent to as many as 5,000 chest x-rays “usually result in no harmful health effects,” according to an agency document posted today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). For decades, EPA had taken the position that “There is no known safe amount of radiation” and is responsible for enforcing laws such as the Safe Drinking Water Act, which prohibits public radiation exposure at levels the agency now says is safe.

In a September 2017 document titled “Questions & Answers for Radiological and Nuclear Emergencies,” EPA declares, in a FAQ format, the following:

“How much radiation is safe? How much is considered low risk?
According to radiation safety experts, radiation exposures of 5–10 rem (5,000–10,000 mrem or 50–100 mSv) usually result in no harmful health effects, because radiation below these levels is a minor contributor to our overall cancer risk…”

EPA does not specify which “radiation safety experts” it is now relying upon but it is notable that –

  • The National Research Council of the National Academy of Sciences, and EPA itself, have long estimated that 10,000 millirems could be expected to induce excess cancers in every 86th person exposed;
  • Those health effects are for a one-time exposure but EPA is rolling out a new approach that would allow daily public exposure at highly elevated levels every day for up to a year; and
  • EPA’s longstanding scientific estimate is that 10,000 millirems would produce a risk at least 100 times higher than EPA’s acceptable risk range on radiation exposure to the public.

“I knew that under Scott Pruitt EPA is in climate denial but now it appears to be in radiation denial, as well,” stated PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch, pointing out that EPA’s new advice contradicts its own 2007 advisory on the same topic which concludes “There is no known safe amount of radiation…the current body of scientific knowledge tells us this.” “This appears to be another case of the Pruitt EPA proclaiming conclusions exactly opposite the overwhelming weight of scientific research.”

EPA’s new approach is encapsulated in a policy with the paradoxical title of “Protective Action Guides” that allows public exposure to radioactivity following a nuclear release at levels many times the maximum limits of the Safe Drinking Water Act. It was finalized on the very last day of the Obama presidency but apparently has been embraced by the Trump team, as this health non-warning was issued just days ago.

“This signals that in the event of a Fukushima-type accident EPA will allow public consumption of radiation-contaminated drinking water for months,” added Ruch, noting that PEER is preparing to legally challenge the new drinking water Protective Action Guides. “Dr. Strangelove is alive and lurking somewhere in the corridors of EPA.”

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Read the new EPA radiation exposure advisory

View summary of radiation exposure implications

See EPA side-by-side displays of contradictory 2007 and 2017 advisories

Look at EPA’s new radiation Protective Action Guide for drinking water 

https://www.peer.org/news/news-releases/pruitt%E2%80%99s-epa-learning-to-love-radiation.html

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— Details on the EPA plan; agency hid proposed increases to “avoid confusion”; PAG levels 100s-1000s times Clean Drinking Water standards

From Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility

For Immediate Release: Dec 22, 2016
Contact: Kirsten Stade (202) 265-7337

RADICAL DRINKING WATER RADIATION RISE CONFIRMED IN EPA PLAN

EPA Hid Planned Exposure Levels 1,000s of Times Safe Drinking Water Act Limits


Washington, DC — In the last days of the Obama Administration, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is about to dramatically increase allowable public exposure to radioactivity to levels thousands of times above the maximum limits of the Safe Drinking Water Act, according to documents the agency surrendered in a federal lawsuit brought by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). These radical rollbacks cover the “intermediate period” following a radiation release and could last for up to several years. This plan is in its final stage of approval.

The documents indicate that the plan’s rationale is rooted in public relations, not public health. Following Japan’s Fukushima meltdown in 2011, EPA’s claims that no radioactivity could reach the U.S. at levels of concern were contradicted by its own rainwater measurements showing contamination from Fukushima throughout the U.S. well above Safe Drinking Water Act limits. In reaction, EPA prepared new limits 1000s of times higher than even the Fukushima rainwater because “EPA experienced major difficulties conveying to the public that the detected levels…were not of immediate concern for public health.”

When EPA published for public comment the proposed “Protective Action Guides,” it hid proposed new concentrations for all but four of the 110 radionuclides covered, and refused to reveal how much they were above Safe Drinking Water Act limits. It took a lawsuit to get EPA to release documents showing that –

  • The proposed PAGs for two radionuclides (Cobalt-60 and Calcium-45) are more than 10,000 times Safe Drinking Water Act limits. Others are hundreds or thousands of times higher;
  • According to EPA’s own internal analysis, some concentrations are high enough to deliver a lifetime permissible dose in a single day. Scores of other radionuclides would be allowed at levels that would produce a lifetime dose in a week or a month;
  • The levels proposed by the Obama EPA are higher than what the Bush EPA tried to adopt–also in its final days. That plan was ultimately withdrawn; and
  • EPA hid the proposed increases from the public so as to “avoid confusion,” intending to release the higher concentrations only after the proposal was adopted. The documents also reveal that EPA’s radiation division even hid the new concentrations from other divisions of EPA that were critical of the proposal, requiring repeated efforts to get them to even be disclosed internally.

“To cover its embarrassment after being caught dissembling about Fukushima fallout on American soil, EPA is pursuing a justification for assuming a radioactive fetal position even in cases of ultra-high contamination,” stated PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch, noting that New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman has called for the PAGs to be withdrawn on both public health and legal grounds. “The Safe Drinking Water Act is a federal law; it cannot be nullified or neutered by regulatory ‘guidance.’”

Despite claims of transparency, EPA solicited public comment on its plan even as it hid the bulk of the plan’s effects. Nonetheless, more than 60,000 people filed comments in opposition.

“The Dr. Strangelove wing of EPA does not want this information shared with many of its own experts, let alone the public,” added Ruch, noting that PEER had to file a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit to force release of exposure limits. “This is a matter of public health that should be promulgated in broad daylight rather than slimed through in the witching hours of a departing administration.”

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View ultra-high proposed PAG allowable concentrations

(and explanation for the chart)

See briefing memo explaining why EPA wants water PAGs

Read letter of opposition from New York Attorney General

Revisit PEER lawsuit

— Obama administration final gift: EPA adopts huge increase in allowable drinking water contamination

From Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility

For Immediate Release: Jan 19, 2017
Contact: Kirsten Stade (202) 265-7337

FIG LEAVES NO COVER FOR DRINKING WATER RADIATION ROLLBACK

Final Approval for Radical Radiation Rise in Water Supplies after Nuclear Release


Washington, DC — In a not so lovely parting gift, the Obama administration today formally adopted a policy of allowing public exposure to radioactivity following a nuclear release at levels many times the maximum limits of the Safe Drinking Water Act. Last-minute modifications ladled in by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to address public health concerns afford scant comfort, according to Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER).

The “Protective Action Guide (PAG) for Drinking Water after a Radiological Incident” was finalized today by its publication in the Federal Register. This policy lets the public consume water containing radiation at levels hundreds and thousands of times what is permitted for the more than 100 chemical elements that can emit radiation (radionuclides) under the Safe Drinking Water Act.

“Since this policy authorizes leaving people in contaminated zones and not providing them bottled or other potable drinking water for long periods, it should be called a ‘Protective Inaction Guide,’” stated Jeff Ruch, Executive Director of PEER which had to sue EPA to force release of information specifying what levels of which radionuclides EPA would permit public exposure to. “Under this policy, affected Americans would be guinea pigs in an untimed radiation experiment.”

In its final action, the EPA claims to have tightened the policy with respect to duration of public exposure, the nature of the triggering event and protections for infants and nursing mothers. PEER disputes the accuracy and efficacy of these supposed mitigations for the following reasons:

  • Duration. These rollbacks cover the “intermediate period” after the radiation release has been brought under control (not necessarily stopped but no longer growing). EPA now contends that this period may last for “week to months but not longer than a year.” However, the PAG itself states that the early, intermediate and late “phases cannot be represented by precise periods of time” and suggests their duration be viewed as “in terms of activities, rather than time spans.” Nor does EPA specify what happens if this intermediate period extends beyond a year;
  • Trigger. EPA now says application of the PAG is limited to “nationally significant radiological contamination incidents” but does not define the term. The PAG itself states that it covers “a wide range of incidents,” not just reactor accidents but also spills. By contrast, the EPA website FAQ posting says the PAG applies in “any radiological emergency”; and
  • Sensitive Populations. The PAG allows 500 millirems (mrem) of radiation exposure for the general population but only 100 mrem for the most sensitive populations (e.g., infants, children, pregnant women and nursing women). But EPA never explains how non-nursing children will get only one-fifth the radiation their parents receive in situations lacking clean drinking water.

“EPA’s qualifications tacitly concede the dangers to public health but do little to solve them,” added Ruch, noting that PEER is considering a lawsuit to nullify the PAG. “Among other legal vulnerabilities, this policy flies in the face of the anti-backsliding requirements of the Safe Drinking Water Act.”

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View the Federal Register notice

Examine redline showing recent EPA rewrites

See EPA’s public relations motivation for the PAG

Look at the full Drinking Water PAG

Read the non-explanatory EPA blog posting

http://www.peer.org/news/news-releases/fig-leaves-no-cover-for-drinking-water-radiation-rollback.html