The Progressive


A project of Common Dreams

For Immediate Release

Kirsten Stade (202) 265-7337

Suit to Air Internal EPA Protests on Radiation Exposure Plan

Experts' Objections to Radically Higher Radiation Exposure Levels Yet to Be Seen


The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has not come clean on its
plan to dramatically raise permissible radioactive release levels,
according to a lawsuit filed today by Public Employees for
Environmental Responsibility (PEER). The new draft standards have been
promulgated in secrecy despite sharp controversy about allowing public
exposure to radiation levels vastly higher than those EPA had
previously deemed unacceptably dangerous.

The plan to
markedly relax radiation standards was signed off on in the final days
of the Bush administration, and suspended by the new Obama
administration prior to its publication. Obama EPA appointees are now
weighing its fate. On June 11, 2009, PEER submitted a request under
the Freedom of Information Act for all of the comments submitted by EPA
and other federal and state agency officials to the EPA Office of
Radiation and Indoor Air (ORIA) as it prepared its updated Protective
Action Guides, which govern radiation protection decisions following
releases from accidents or attacks. PEER had received verbal reports
that both internal and external reviewers registered grave concerns
about the radical relaxation of radiation exposure limits being

ORIA has yet to produce a single document requested by PEER, months
beyond the response deadlines mandated under the Freedom of Information
Act. On October 16, 2009, EPA's Office of General Counsel directed
ORIA to comply but conceded that the only way to enforce its order
would be in court. ORIA had not met previous self-announced timelines
for delivery of documents or promises to provide records on a rolling
basis, as they had been cleared for release. Today, PEER filed a
lawsuit in federal district court in Washington, D.C. to compel

"President Obama directed all agencies to act in a transparent way by
placing important documents in the public domain in a timely fashion,"
said PEER Counsel Christine Erickson, who drafted the complaint.
"Avoiding embarrassment is not a legal basis for deception or delay."

The radiation guides are protocols for responding to radiological
incidents ranging from nuclear power-plant accidents to transportation
spills to "dirty" bombs. They would significantly increase allowable
public exposure to radioactivity in drinking water, including a nearly
1000-fold increase in strontium-90, a 3000 to 100,000-fold hike for
iodine-131, and an almost 25,000 increase for nickel-63. The new
radiation guidance would also allow long-term cleanup standards
thousands of times more lax than anything EPA has ever before accepted,
permitting doses to the public that EPA itself estimates would cause a
cancer in as much as every fourth person exposed. These relaxations of
radiation protection requirements are favored by the nuclear industry
and allies in the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and Energy Department.

"EPA has bypassed open dialogue on how much radiation the public will
be allowed to receive in the event of a release, and is now suppressing
evidence of internal dissent on these controversial proposals," stated
PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch, noting that congressional leaders,
such as Rep. Edward Markey (D-MA), have been expressing concerns about
EPA's intentions. "Who knew that EPA had a Doctor Strangelove wing?"


Read the PEER complaint

See the background of the radiation guidance issue

Look at Rep. Markey's news release

View EPA's invitation to sue

Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) is a national alliance of local state and federal resource professionals. PEER's environmental work is solely directed by the needs of its members. As a consequence, we have the distinct honor of serving resource professionals who daily cast profiles in courage in cubicles across the country.