For Immediate Release
Kirsten Stade (202) 265-7337
Radiation Exposure Debate Rages Inside EPA
Plan to Radically Hike Post-Accident Radiation in Food & Water Sparks Hot Dissent
WASHINGTON - A plan awaiting approval by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
that would dramatically increase permissible radioactive releases in
drinking water, food and soil after "radiological incidents" is drawing
vigorous objections from agency experts, according to agency documents
released today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility
(PEER). At issue is the acceptable level of public health risk
following a radiation release, whether an accidental spill or a "dirty
The radiation arm of EPA, called the Office of
Radiation and Indoor Air (ORIA), has prepared an update of the 1992
"Protective Action Guides" (PAG) governing radiation protection
decisions for both short-term and long-term cleanup standards. Other
divisions within EPA contend the ORIA plan geometrically raises
allowable exposure to the public. For example, as Charles Openchowski
of EPA's Office of General Counsel wrote in a January 23, 2009 e-mail to
"[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
Another EPA official, Stuart Walker of
the Office of Superfund Remediation and Technology Innovation, explains
what the proposed new radiation limits in drinking water would mean:
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"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."
"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,"
stated PEER Counsel Christine Erickson. Today, PEER sent EPA
Administrator Lisa Jackson a letter calling for a more open and broader
examination of the proposed radiation guidance. "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
The internal documents show that under the updated
PAG a single glass of water could give a lifetime's permissible
exposure. In addition, it would allow long-term cleanup limits
thousands of times more lax than anything EPA has ever before accepted.
These new limits would cause a cancer in as much as every fourth person
PEER obtained the internal e-mails after filing a
lawsuit this past fall under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) but
the EPA has yet to turn over thousands more communications. "EPA touts
its new transparency but when it comes to matters of controversy the
agency still puts up a wall," added Erickson, who filed the FOIA suit.
"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
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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.