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EPA plan to raise radiation exposure limits sparks internal debate

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The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is considering dramatically increasing the allowable level of radioactive contamination in water, food and soil after radiological incidents such as spills or "dirty bomb" attacks.

The move preceded the nuclear disaster now unfolding in Japan in the wake of last month's devastating earthquake and tsunami. Documents released today by the whistleblower group Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility show the plan has sparked concerns within EPA.

The agency's Office of Radiation and Indoor Air (ORIA) has prepared an update of the 1992 "Protective Action Guides" for radiation exposure. Other EPA divisions have raised concerns about how much the new guidelines would raise allowable exposures.

As Charles Openchowski of EPA's Office of General Counsel wrote in a January 2009 e-mail to ORIA:

"[T]his guidance would allow cleanup levels that exceed MCLs [Maximum Contamination Limits under the Safe Drinking Water Act] by a factor of 100, 1000, and in two instances 7 million and there is nothing to prevent those levels from being the final cleanup achieved (i.e., it's not confined to immediate response of emergency phase)."

Other EPA officials have raised concerns that drinking water containing radioactive contamination at the proposed limits would result in acute health effects such as vomiting and fever. PEER obtained the internal EPA e-mails after filing a lawsuit last fall under the Freedom of Information Act. It is still waiting for the agency to turn over thousands more communications.

"This critical debate is taking place entirely behind closed doors because this plan is 'guidance' and does not require public notice as a regulation would," said PEER Counsel Christine Erickson.

PEER sent EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson a letter today calling for a more open and broader examination of the proposed radiation guidance.

A comprehensive 2005 report from the National Academy of Sciences found there is no safe dose of low-level radiation, with no threshold of exposure below which radiation can be shown to be harmless.

"The health risks -- particularly the development of solid cancers in organs -- rise proportionally with exposure," said epidemiologist Richard R. Monson, chair of the NAS committee that issued the report and professor at the Harvard School of Public Health. "At low doses of radiation, the risk of inducing solid cancers is very small. As the overall lifetime exposure increases, so does the risk."

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re: EPA plan to raise radiation exposure limits sparks internal

Got a corporate problem? Too much radioactive pollution? No problem! Just move the goal posts. Here's my suggestion: If the EPA wants to change the standards, let's use those decision-makers as guinea pigs. Let them ingest the radioactive air/food/water, wait 7-10 years and screen them for cancer. It's the only fair thing to do.

re: EPA plan to raise radiation exposure limits sparks internal

the reactor in japan needs mass suicide squad to get it under control the lethal dose of radiation is almost instant and after about 2 minutes most people will collapse

so let me put this bluntly they need 10s of thousands of workers all of witch will die on the site and will need to be told where to lay down and die and at some point a few workers will be needed to move the bodies so work can keep on going

pulling the workers back because the radiation is to high is some how expected to make it cool down if you stop pumping water monitoring temperature and regulating relief valves temperature goes up more leaks start and the over all situation gets worse

radiation just spiked off the charts it would be fair bet to say something really bad went wrong and it needs immediate attention or it will get far worse t

on the exact topic here the alert level has been reached and is expected to go way past that level very soon and nothing we can do to stop it what should we do mmm lets raise the level needed for an alert so we do not have to call an alert

nuclear powered fire works anybody they are well bellow the epa limits of exposure

re: EPA plan to raise radiation exposure limits sparks internal

Who needs 'dirty' bombs when you've got filthy nuclear plants dumping on a regular basis? Raise the limits and suddenly there's nothing to worry about. Nifty how that works, eh?

re: EPA plan to raise radiation exposure limits sparks internal

The EPA raised the allowable levels for PAH's in our Gulf seafood in the midst of the oil disaster. Now this? Why set levels only to change them in the face of a disaster. To placate the masses?

re: EPA plan to raise radiation exposure limits sparks internal

The 90% of the industry owned revolving door traitors at the EPA give the other 10% a bad name.