Washington, DC October 24, 2016 – The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is illegally withholding the specific effects of its pending plan to dramatically hike permissible radiation exposure in our drinking water, according to a federal lawsuit filed today Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). While EPA is poised to allow vastly greater radioactive contamination than allowed by the Safe Drinking Water Act, it has refused to disclose just how much higher levels the public could be exposed to for the great majority of radionuclides that would be expected to contaminate water supplies.
The EPA plan is contained in something called “Protective Action Guides” (or PAGs) which are now in their final stage of approval. These PAGs would relax radiation safeguards throughout the “intermediate phase” (after nuclear “releases have been brought under control”) following a radiation release. The PAGs cover not just a Fukushima-type meltdown or “dirty bomb” attack but any radiation release for which a protective action might be considered. This intermediate period could last for up to several years.
Although it would set new concentrations for 110 radionuclides, EPA has disclosed what those new concentrations would be for only four of these. In response to a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request for the balance of the exposure data, and information as to how much they would exceed Safe Drinking Water Act limits, EPA demurred, citing the need to conduct extensive “intra-agency coordination” before revealing the numbers for all covered types and forms of radiation.
“It is outrageous that EPA put a plan out for public comment while hiding the key parts of its proposal,” stated PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch, noting that the proposed PAGs have elicited more than 60,000 public comments, with opposition exceeding support by a ratio of roughly ten-thousand-to-one. “EPA should withdraw this irresponsible plan radically hiking allowable radioactivity in our drinking water.”
For the few radionuclides disclosed in the current proposal, the concentrations are up to several thousand times higher than levels EPA has historically said are acceptably safe. For strontium-90, the proposed “acceptable concentration” for adults is 925 times higher than the longstanding Safe Drinking Water Act limits. For iodione-131, the PAG is 3,450 times higher. These are levels that would subject the public to elevated radiation exposures equivalent to 250 chest X-rays a year.
For other non-disclosed radionuclides, according to internal EPA documents obtained by PEER in a previous FOIA lawsuit, a person would receive a lifetime dosage from a small glass of water. Those documents state that concentrations proposed during the last days of the Bush administration “would exceed MCLs [Maximum Contaminant Limits of the Safe Drinking Water Act] by a factor of 100, 1000, and in two instances, 7 million.” It is precisely those numbers for the current plan that the PEER lawsuit seeks to produce.
“One can understand why EPA wants to avoid divulging disturbing facts and to assume a low profile in hopes of sneaking this stink-bomb through while everyone is distracted by the election,” added Ruch. “As in the final days of the Bush term, these same EPA staff in Obama’s waning weeks are trying to ooze out something that we suspect contains exposure limits even higher than the Bush plan, while keeping secret most of the proposed levels that even the Bush plan disclosed. It is not what one expects from a bunch of people who bill themselves as the most transparent administration in history.”
This final PAGs plan is sitting on the desk of top officials at EPA and, with approval of Administrator Gina McCarthy, could go into immediate effect.