Washington, DC — In a startling public health reversal, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is now declaring that radiation exposures equivalent to as many as 5,000 chest x-rays “usually result in no harmful health effects,” according to an agency document posted today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). For decades, EPA had taken the position that “There is no known safe amount of radiation” and is responsible for enforcing laws such as the Safe Drinking Water Act, which prohibits public radiation exposure at levels the agency now says is safe.
In a September 2017 document titled “Questions & Answers for Radiological and Nuclear Emergencies,” EPA declares, in a FAQ format, the following:
“How much radiation is safe? How much is considered low risk?
According to radiation safety experts, radiation exposures of 5–10 rem (5,000–10,000 mrem or 50–100 mSv) usually result in no harmful health effects, because radiation below these levels is a minor contributor to our overall cancer risk…”
EPA does not specify which “radiation safety experts” it is now relying upon but it is notable that –
- The National Research Council of the National Academy of Sciences, and EPA itself, have long estimated that 10,000 millirems could be expected to induce excess cancers in every 86th person exposed;
- Those health effects are for a one-time exposure but EPA is rolling out a new approach that would allow daily public exposure at highly elevated levels every day for up to a year; and
- EPA’s longstanding scientific estimate is that 10,000 millirems would produce a risk at least 100 times higher than EPA’s acceptable risk range on radiation exposure to the public.
“I knew that under Scott Pruitt EPA is in climate denial but now it appears to be in radiation denial, as well,” stated PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch, pointing out that EPA’s new advice contradicts its own 2007 advisory on the same topic which concludes “There is no known safe amount of radiation…the current body of scientific knowledge tells us this.” “This appears to be another case of the Pruitt EPA proclaiming conclusions exactly opposite the overwhelming weight of scientific research.”
EPA’s new approach is encapsulated in a policy with the paradoxical title of “Protective Action Guides” that allows public exposure to radioactivity following a nuclear release at levels many times the maximum limits of the Safe Drinking Water Act. It was finalized on the very last day of the Obama presidency but apparently has been embraced by the Trump team, as this health non-warning was issued just days ago.
“This signals that in the event of a Fukushima-type accident EPA will allow public consumption of radiation-contaminated drinking water for months,” added Ruch, noting that PEER is preparing to legally challenge the new drinking water Protective Action Guides. “Dr. Strangelove is alive and lurking somewhere in the corridors of EPA.”