Kudarauskas’ confirmation of his quotes and refusal to clarify what he meant do not inspire confidence that he meant anything other than he said. Despite assurances of an approved interview, EPA instead sent EnviroReporter.com an email with no subject line and a hastily composed blow-off. EPA has no time for prying questions, especially ones that pertain to the actual arithmetic of discombobulating complex radiation regulations.
The EPA’s draft PAG is a hot tale told in cold radionuclide names and numbers. No amount of Byzantine sleights of hand in the draft EPA PAG’s footnotes can obscure the stark reality of the literal heights of the new radiation limits. Or the misery they would cause.
The worst radioactive isotopes prevalent in a radiological disaster, including Cesium-137, Strontium-90 and Plutonium-239, would be allowed at levels so high that in one EPA radiation scenario, exposure would lead to a 100 percent chance of getting a fatal cancer, eight times over. Food radiation limits would be loosened so much that one in fifty people could contract the terminal disease.
Cesium-137 and Strontium-90, two virulent radionuclides that cause blood and bone cancers including leukemia, reaches new limits literally. Cs-137 is now considered safe at 270 times its previous cutoff level. Sr-90 comes in at 676 times what is the maximum level considered safe to drink.
The report creates different “alternatives” or environmental situations such as early, mid and late nuclear disaster scenarios. This results in different new rad limits on isotopes. In EPA PAG Alternative II for Strontium-90 in drinking water, the 246 Becquerels per liter (Bq/l) new limit is 7,022 times EPA’s PRG. At 50 Bq/l Plutonium-239 is now over 3,447 times its own PRG as determined by the agency that made both.
According to environmental and public health advocates, the NRCP, which created the guidelines that EPA will adopt, is “an organization dominated by industry and government interests” and so doesn’t seem to mind sending folks back to their farms, homes and offices to work and live in a radiologically contaminated environment with concentrations of deadly isotopes skyrocketing as high as tens of millions of times the PRGs.
This would happen without cleanup undertaken. Who needs to clean up when it’s still within the new PAG benchmarks that dictate no cleanup necessary if the public is dosed with less than 1 rem per year? That small sounding number could seem reasonable until one realizes that it is the equivalent of each individual exposed getting 15,000 chest X-rays over a thirty year period.
In fact, the DHS PAG which the EPA version incorporates doesn’t require cleanup until 10 rem a year is reached which is 150,000 chest X-rays in the same period of time. The EPA’s own calculation of how many cancers would be caused by this radiation is one in every 1.7 people. Females, however, run an even higher risk than males from the same high level of exposure.
Instead of blowing radiation limits sky high in all instances, the PAGs just get rid of some of the most important ones. The 1992 EPA PAGs required relocation of people if skin and thyroid doses reached a certain limit. No more. In order to “avoid confusion,” says EPA draft guidelines, the limits have simply been removed.
The skin and the thyroid are most sensitive to radiation exposure. Now there will be no guidance at all on this which seems blatantly dangerous to both people exposed and to the maintenance of some semblance of order should a nuclear accident, terrorism or detonation occur. This is an especially dangerous rewrite of the safety rules for first responders and others charged with maintaining order in the case of a nuclear emergency.
If there has to be a cleanup, however, the PAG provides astonishing new guidance: take radioactive debris and waste and dump it in unregulated municipal garbage dumps. In Guidance for the Late Phase in Chapter 4 of the PAGs, it is suggested that nuclear waste be allowed into these facilities without any attention paid to the fact that these dumps could leak the radioactive material, which could also migrate through surface and groundwater.
The EPA’s reliance on DHS PAGs will gut radiation protections by using these emergency levels to not only apply to nuclear detonations or “dirty bombs” but even minor nuclear events like a radiopharmaceutical spill or fire. This makes the guide practically useless for emergency responders and puts them in the front line of the hot zone without the adequate protection they deserve based on sound science that will keep them safe.
Compounding the effect of the draconian new radiation limits is the EPA PAGs’ adherence to outdated Food and Drug Administration guidelines on what’s allowed in American food and drink. FDA guidance for just food alone allows 500 millirem exposure per year which is the equivalent of a chest X-ray daily in radiation dose equivalent.
These old FDA rules are astonishing on the face of them. FDA allows up to 4,700 picocuries (pCi/l) of Iodine-131 in a liter of milk while the EPA allows 3 pCi/l in drinking water. For Cesium-137, which also has the 3 pCi/l EPA threshold, the FDA allows up to 33,000 pCi/l. Yet even with these huge discrepancies, EPA has chosen to abandon their own limits in favor of the FDA ones that were created decades ago.
Slashing radiation safety measures are an across the board enterprise that EPA has embraced wholly. It is the kind of historic policy shift that radically rewrites radiation policy. The losers are first responders, police, military and the public.
THE THREAT FROM WITHIN
The EPA PAG is ingenious as it is dangerous. Should any of America’s aging 103 nuclear reactors have an accident or meltdown, the EPA can declare contaminated air, water, food and soil safe. Should terrorists attack and destroy a lightly defended nuclear reactor spent fuel pool, which would release far more radiation than a meltdown, the new PAG ought to handle it even if first responders get nuked in the process. If a cargo of radioactive material is released into the environment from a simple accident, the agency can simply point to the “protective” levels to say it’s safe.
There is no better way to hurt an enemy than to have the enemy hurt itself. It’s a plan that Osama bin Laden would have loved. Get American officials to give Americans assurance that the EPA says that radioactive contamination unleashed in a terrorist attack isn’t so bad after all.
It’s the ‘Fukushima Fakeout’ where the lesson learned from the Japanese meltdowns is to blow the numbers out so high that even lethal levels of radiation are rated tolerable. It makes as much sense as having police officers remove their bulletproof vests in a gunfight or unlocking seatbelts in a vehicular crash.
The Japanese government is perfecting the art of justifying high radiation exposure to the unwitting population still close to Fukushima Dai-ichi. An investigation by Japan’s leading daily newspaper Asahi Shimbun May 25 revealed that the “government avoided setting stringent radiation reference levels for the return of Fukushima evacuees for fear of triggering a population drain and being hit by ballooning costs for compensation.”
The government initially sought a 5-millisievert per year (mSv/y) cutoff line where above it would be deemed too hot to return for earthquake and multi-meltdowns refugees of the March 11, 2011 multiple disasters. Previously, the target had been 1 mSv/y. All of this was rejected in favor of 20 mSv/y because the “prefectural government could not function with population drain under the 5-millisievert scenario,” said a state minister quoted by Asahi Shimbun. “In addition, there were concerns that more compensation money will be needed, with an increase in the number of evacuees.”
Instead of the numbers of evacuees increasing, the 20 mSv/y will increase excess cancers in one in every six Japanese exposed, based on the most current radiation risk estimates from the National Academy of Sciences and EPA. This mind-bogglingly lax standard is exactly the one proposed by the NCRP which will make its way into the draft EPA PAG long after commenting is over and the dangerous levels become law.
“In the place of longstanding health-based cleanup standards, NCRP now proposes setting cleanup levels for many radiological releases in the 1 to 20 mSv/y range, with such doses to be permitted to extend for one’s entire life,” says Hirsch in his comments on the PAG. “These are extraordinary doses. 20 mSv/y is the equivalent of approximately one thousand chest X-rays annually, or three chest X-rays every day of your life, from the moment of birth to the moment of death. Of course, there would be no informed consent or medical benefit from such exposure, only medical detriment.”
Giving false safety information about radiation to Americans in times of crisis is ludicrous. High radiation limits may help keep people calmer in crisis, theoretically, but that only helps in the short term and is harmful in the mid and long term. Inflated radiation limits will induce our most needed civil servants in a radiation crisis to needlessly expose themselves and others.
The final steps before formal acceptance of the PAG comes as its creator, Obama’s nominee for Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, Gina McCarthy, is closer to assuming office than when the PAG controversy first erupted in earnest in March.
McCarthy supervised the draft EPA PAG radiation limits as she has been in charge of the EPA’s Office of Air and Radiation since 2009. She oversaw a revised version of the EPA PAG which would allow Americans to consume water at thousands of times in excess of EPA “Maximum Contaminant Levels” (MCLs) for radiation.
Her nomination had been stalled by Republicans in the Senate but Sen. David Vitter (R-Louisiana), the ranking Republican on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, said July 9 that he no longer opposed bringing McCarthy’s nomination to the floor of the Senate without filibuster. That leaves one holdout Republican, Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Missouri) who wants answers from the EPA, Army Corps of Engineers and US Fish and Wildlife Service for a floodway project in southeast Missouri along the Mississippi River levee system.