Shocker: The EPA’s plan to let you drink radioactive water


The world not long ago marked the 5th anniversary of the Fukushima reactor meltdown in Japan — an ongoing nuclear crisis that may not be cleaned up for decades, and even that may be optimistic. Lingering high radiation levels mean that swaths of northern Japan remain uninhabitable — unsafe to eat local food, breathe the air, or drink the water. To many, the 2011 Fukushima tragedy stands out as clear proof of the folly of nuclear power, especially in an era in which humankind has boosted our ability to generate electricity using safe, renewable means. Clearly, it’s time to take these aging behemoths — like New York’s unsafe-at-any-speed Indian Point nuclear plant –off-line, and reduce our risk of a lethal radiological event. In addition to nuclear power plants, the rise of fracking — which pulls radioactive gunk from the ground — has set off alarm bells about the likelihood of radiation pollution in our water.

In a shocking move, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is going in completely the wrong direction on this issue. Succumbing to an industry lobbying campaign that’s been going on for years, the agency tasked with protecting Americans and our environment is planning to radically loosen the standard on how much radiation in the water supply that it considers “safe” after an incident — either a Fukushima-style meltdown or some other case of radiological contamination. The proposed new EPA rules would allow a citizen to expose himself — just through his tap water — to as much radiation as 250 chest x-rays in one year. In fact, the rules just proposed by the Obama administration are even more pro-industry than what the George W. Bush administration was pondering a few years back:

Environmentalists took aim at the EPA for establishing what some called egregiously high drinking water guide levels. Several environmentalists had urged the EPA in 2013 to establish guide levels only in line with existing maximum contaminant levels under the Safe Drinking Water Act.

“Given this monstrous proposal, it is unclear what lessons EPA learned from the contaminated water calamity of Flint, Michigan,” Jeff Ruch, executive director for Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, said in a statement. “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.”

The maximum contaminant levels were intended for limiting “everyday exposure” and assume 70 years of continuous exposure, while this guide would be in place only for emergencies, the EPA said. The entity responsible for any radiation incident-impacted drinking water system would be expected to “return to compliance” with maximum contaminant levels “by the earliest feasible time,” the EPA’s draft guide itself said.

The proposed limits for a radiological incident are truly stunning. For radioactive iodine-131, for example, the EPA rules would allow citizens to consume levels 3,450 times higher than what is now classified as safe. Indeed, other respected groups, such as the international Codex Alimentarius Commission, have set safety standards that are much more conservative than the EPA. But then, these other groups aren’t answering to corporate lobbyists:

“Clean water is essential for health,” Dr. Catherine Thomasson, executive director of Physicians for Social Responsibility, said. “Just like lead, radiation when ingested in small amounts is very hazardous to our health. It is inconceivable that EPA could now quietly propose allowing enormous increases in radioactive contamination with no action to protect the public, even if concentrations are a thousand times higher than under the Safe Drinking Water Act.”

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, the EPA’s radiation office is trying again.

“These levels are even higher than those proposed by the Bush Administration—really unprecedented and shocking,” Diane D’Arrigo, Nuclear Information and Resource Service, said.

The Bush Administration proposal for strontium 90 was 6,650 pCi/L; the new proposal is 7,400 pCi/L. For iodine-131, the Bush proposal was 8,490 pCi/L; the new proposal is 10,350 pCi/L. For cesium-137, the proposal was for 13,600 pCi/L; Obama “beats” Bush with a value of 16,570 pCi/L.

The only good news here is that these are still draft regulations — not finalized. Hopefully enough folks in the general public and their elected officials will speak out and kill this bad proposal. Nuclear accidents need to be prevented — not excused by government officials willing to look the other way while citizens drink poisoned tap water.

Read more about the EPA’s proposed new rules from Bloomberg News:

Here’s more about the water rules from EcoWatch:

Learn the story about how I fought Big Oil on its radioactive pollution in my new book, Crude Justice: How I Fought Big Oil and Won, and What You Should Know About the New Environmental Attack on America

© Stuart H. Smith, LLC 2015 – All Rights Reserved

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Stuart H. Smith is an attorney based in New Orleans fighting major oil companies and other polluters.
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