EPA Pushing Huge Hike in Drinking Water Radioactivity
Thousand-Fold Increase Following Fukushima-Type Incident – More than Bush Plan
Washington, DC — The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has unveiled a plan allowing radioactive contamination in drinking water at concentrations vastly greater than the levels permitted by the Safe Drinking Water Act for long periods following release of nuclear materials, according to Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). The new guidance would permit radiation exposures equivalent to 250 chest X-rays a year for the general population for an unlimited time period.
EPA’s curiously named “Protective Action Guides” (or PAGs) dramatically relax allowable doses of radioactive material in public drinking water following a Fukushima-type meltdown or “dirty bomb” attack. They cover the “intermediate phase” after “releases have been brought under control” – an unspecified period that may last for weeks, months or even years.
The agency has declared that the strict limits for chemical exposure in the Safe Drinking Water Act “may not be appropriate…during a radiation incident.” EPA states that it “expects that the responsible party…will take action to return to compliance with the Safe Drinking Water Act maximum contaminant levels as soon as practicable” but during the indefinite meantime –
- The general population may be exposed to radioactive iodine-131 at 10,350 pico-curies per liter of water. By contrast, the current limit is 3, resulting in a 3,450-times increase;
- The current strontium-90 limit of 8 pico-curies per liter would be allowed a 925-fold increase; and
- In an attempt to shield “sensitive populations,” the plan proposes 500 millirem per year for the general population but only 100 millirem for children under 15, pregnant or nursing mothers without explaining how these latter groups will get access to less contaminated water.
“Given this monstrous proposal, it unclear what lessons EPA learned from the contaminated water calamity of Flint, Michigan,” stated PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch, pointing to the Orwellian language EPA uses to describe its PAGs as “a more robust and complete tool” for radiological incident response. “It is unfathomable that a public health agency would prescribe subjecting people to radioactive concentrations a thousand times above Safe Drinking Water Act limits as a ‘protective’ measure.”
Internal EPA documents obtained under Freedom of Information Act litigation brought by PEER show that EPA itself concluded that proposed concentrations “would exceed MCLs [Maximum Contaminant Limits of the Safe Drinking Water Act] by a factor of 100, 1000, and in two instances, 7 million.” The internal analysis estimated for one radionuclide that drinking only one small glass of water “would result in an exposure that corresponds to a lifetime of drinking liters of water per day at the MCL level.”
The Bush Administration in its last days unsuccessfully tried to put forward similar proposals, which the incoming Obama Administration pulled back. Now, in the waning months of the Obama Administration, those plans are moving forward with new exposure limits higher than the Bush plan it had rejected.
“President Obama goes to Hiroshima to urge a nuclear-free world while his EPA facilitates a nuclear-ridden water supply,” added Ruch. “It speaks volumes that the current Obama drinking water plan is less protective than his predecessor’s.”
These Drinking Water PAGs will be open for public comment for 45 days following their publication in the Federal Register later this week. Notwithstanding public comment, these PAGs may have already gone into effect.