More than 100 groups oppose EPA weakening of radiation release guides

WiG

More than 100 environmental groups today called on U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Gina McCarthy to withdraw new protective action guides that would allow exposure to high doses from radiation releases before the government would take action to protect the public.

The PAGs, according to a news release, are intended to guide the response to nuclear power reactor accidents like Fukushima in Japan, Chernobyl in Ukraine and Three Mile Island in the United States, “dirty bomb” explosions, radioactive releases from nuclear fuel and weapons facilities, nuclear transportation accidents and other radioactive releases.

Official estimates of health risks from radiation have gone up substantially since promulgation of the old PAGs, the new EPA guidance contemplates radically increased “allowable” exposures in the intermediate and long-term periods after radiation releases.

The groups outlined in their statement the new PAGs:

• Propose five options for drinking water that would dramatically increase the permitted concentrations of radioactivity in drinking water, by as much as 27,000 times compared to EPA’s current Safe Drinking Water Act limits;

• Suggest relaxing long-term cleanup standards.

• Incorporate high and outdated allowable food contamination levels.

• Eliminate requirements to evacuate people threatened with high projected radiation doses to the thyroid and skin.

• Eliminate limits on lifetime whole body doses.

• Recommend dumping radioactive waste in municipal garbage dumps not designed for such waste.

“Rather than requiring protective actions to limit public radiation exposures, EPA is now saying it would allow the public to be exposed to doses far higher than ever before considered acceptable,” said Daniel Hirsch, president of Committee to Bridge the Gap.

Added Diane D’Arrigo of the Nuclear Information and Resource Service, “Even though EPA now admits radiation is more harmful than previously thought, it is weakening rather than tightening radiation protections.”

The groups sent McCarthy a 38-page letter in regards to “Protective Action Guides for Radionuclides (Docket ID No. EPA–HQ–OAR–2007–0268).”

The letter states, “The current Obama PAGs now issued are in many respects as troubling as the Bush proposal, and in some particulars, even weaker in terms of public health protection. Some cosmetic changes have been made—e.g. vaguer language is used which may have the same disturbing effect. But at their core, rather than specifying protective actions to prevent public exposures, the PAGs would allow massive radiation exposures without any protective actions being recommended to limit them. We recommend the PAGs be withdrawn.”

Signers included representatives from Public Citizen, Beyond Nuclear, Greenpeace, National Resources Defense Council, Center for Biological Diversity, Clean Water Action, Fukushima Fallout Awareness Network, Sierra Club, Nukewatch and Rocky Mountain Peace and Justice Center.