OpEd

Story published: 09-03-2013 • Print ArticleE-mail Story to a Friend

Withdraw ‘protective’ guides


By Frances Lamberts

Marine scientist Rachel Carson, acclaimed for her books on sea life and exposing the threat of toxic chemicals (in Silent Spring), also had strong concerns about radiation pollution.

Noting the insidious ways that it threatens people’s health, primarily through the food chain, and future children through genetic damage, she thought it “one of the most crucial problems of our time.”

Carson warned that the route to the human body of radioactive elements “is short and direct.

From contaminated pasture grass to the cow, from cow’s milk to the human consumer; and, once in the body, iodine [one such element] finds its natural target, the thyroid gland.”

She deplored the lack of a national system for systematic sampling of radiation and its ecological effects, and the easy assurances given by industry scientists and regulatory agencies that it is “not a problem of concern.”

Continuing news reports on the Fukushima reactor meltdowns reveal the enormous threats.

The plant has been leaking hundreds of tons of radioactive water into the ocean, daily since the accident.

“California fish contaminated with nuclear radiation,” was among recent headlines as a group of American doctors urges monitoring and reporting of this contamination, in all “edible Pacific Ocean species sold in the United States.”

Thyroid abnormalities in children in the Fukushima area have risen 40 percent since the accident.

In different regions in the U.S., as documented in three medical studies, significant mortality increases range from 1.9 percent in New England to more than 7 percent in Pacific and western mountain states.

The U.S. government should strengthen radiation protections for citizens, in the event of nuclear disasters, yet it iseems poised to do the opposite.

In April, in the Federal Register, the Environmental Protection Agency revived a plan from the last days of the Bush Administration, on which it is seeking public comment, until Sept. 16.

In the proposed Protective Action Guides for Radionuclides, limits for critical elements — radioactive iodine, strontium, cesium, for example — are higher, by hundreds or thousands of times, than the Safe Drinking Water Act allows.

Instead of treatment or alternative-drinking water provision, and guidance to local authorities on how to safeguard water supplies, the proposal simply redefines, as now safe, substantially higher radiation levels in soil and water, such as a major nuclear accident can cause.

It seems that, to further shield the industry from liability, radiation protections in the event of a nuclear disaster could be rolled back, dramatically.

As environmental groups point out, 1 in 6 or even more people would stand to get cancer from radiation exposure as a result.

Carson reproached our unwillingness “to concede the existence of hazard, … give attention to the preparation of [proper] countermeasures” and acknowledge that “environmental contamination by radioactive materials is an inevitable accompaniment” of nuclear power.

The public would do well to request of the EPA that the proposed “Protective” Guides be withdrawn, and of the Administration that it cease spending taxpayer money for nuclear-power expansion.

Comments may be sent (Docket ID No. EPA-HQ-OAR-2007-0268) to A-and-R-Docket@epamail.epa.gov.