CBG pointed out that the dump hadn’t been inspected for a decade from August 1969 until the group began making inquiries about it. The early inquiries precipitated a VA sweep of the area with a Geiger Muller counter and a small sampling of plant, soil and water for radiation. They found nothing, which is to be expected — the primary known radionuclides at the dump are beta and alpha radiation emitters, which can only be detected from a very short distance and are not readily revealed once buried underground.
Braude and Beilenson quickly responded to CBG’s concerns and promised “independent testing and analysis of the substances in this disposal site.” This made sense as an internal VA letter from early 1969 foreshadowed. “It is essential, however, that Atomic Energy Commission approval of the transfers of these properties be obtained since terrain modifications, such as cut and fill procedures may be required.”
The Nuclear Regulatory Commission, formed out of the AEC in 1974, quickly dismissed CBG’s concerns. In an internal NRC communication, dated April 24, 1981, then-NRC Region V Chief of the Radiological Safety Branch, Herbert E. Book, wrote that even though, “[P]recise calculations are not possible with the available data,” there was no possible harm emitting from the tritium and carbon-14 buried in the dump.
Book reasoned that since NRC regulations had been recently amended to exempt minute amounts of radioactive biomedical wastes containing tritium and carbon-14 from regulations, then the past dumping at the site was of no concern. “Effective March 11, 1981, the NRC Regulations were amended to exempt biomedical wastes such as these, containing H-3 and C-14, from regulations,” Book wrote. “Thus, today the hospital could dispose of those materials containing H-3 and C-14 without limit and without any controls because of the radioactive content. It follows that there can be no possible hazard resulting from the H-3 or C-14 which has been buried in the past and their presence will not affect any future use of the property.”
But that statement is false — the new 1981 regulations said no such thing and were referring to “tracer amounts” of tritium and carbon-14. The operative phrase in the `81 regulations was “the licensee may dispose of specified concentrations of these materials without regard to their radioactivity.” Those concentrations were indeed very small.
This was the beginning of a set of NRC and VA fabrications and deceptions that set in motion a series of events that helped lead to the transformation of part the dump into a park. After all, if the substances were harmless, they could be dumped literally anywhere. Book goes on to state, “No controls were found to be necessary on location of burials (the licensee was not even required to have control of the property) or on subsequent use of the property.”
“In light of this and our recent decontrol of biomedical wastes containing H-3 and C-14, it would seem totally irresponsible and incredible if the NRC should decide that controls or conditions should apply to the future use of the property,” wrote Book, forming the crux of the NRC arguments used to justify building the Brentwood park with no proper characterization or cleanup.