DOE actively misleads on risks of radiation exposure
That just got us another referral to EPA. Ronald G. Fraass, the Director of EPA’s National Air and Radiation Environmental Laboratory who we contacted first, was obliged, he said, to refer us to EPA headquarters. Repeated inquiries there did ultimately yield an email statement, but the statement was entirely unresponsive to the questions posed. Instead, as with the joint press release with DOE, the focus was on trying to explain that existing levels are not of concern.
EPA wouldn’t even confirm that background levels of radiations have increased significantly since the 1940s, let alone provide the information requested on airborne concentration of Cesium-137 that raises concern, or whether the level of concern would be different for those on the ground as compared with that for airline travelers and personnel travelling while Cesium-137 was present at an elevated level in the jet stream.
Another follow-up yielded no reply, and the NRC gave no reply at all to the question of airborne concentration of concern.
How low is low?
The Mailman School’s Kleiman pointed to the NCRP standards as providing a very significant margin of safety. These are the standards that include a recommended cap of 50 millirems per month for fetal exposure.
It is not, however, universally agreed that those standards are sufficiently stringent.
For example, the fallout from the Chernobyl accident that was deposited in Sweden caused a maximum dose of 400 millirems in the first year, according to a 2008 study by a group of three researchers who were looking at the impact of prenatal exposure to Chernobyl fallout in that country.
Nevertheless, the researchers found that “students born in regions of Sweden with higher fallout performed worse in secondary school," and that, “From a public health perspective, our findings suggest that neural development is compromised at radiation doses currently considered safe.”
“Trivialize, trivialize, trivialize”
EPA’s “Radiation Risks and Realities” brochure begins with language indistinguishable from industry promotional materials from the 1950s: “It’s natural and all around us. It comes up from the ground, down through the atmosphere, and even from within our own bodies. It can be man-made too. But it’s nothing new. It’s been present since the birth of the planet. It’s radiation, and radiation is, quite simply, part of our lives."
Why won’t governmental agencies simply set forth risk without constantly trying to downplay it, Remapping Debate asked? Wouldn’t doing so make genuine reassurances be more persuasive to the public? According to Moglin of Friends of the Earth, when it comes to setting forth domestic risks, the government is inclined to “trivialize at every juncture.” He described the posture as “in a way acting towards people as if they’re children and we can’t have mature dialogue and discussion,” adding, “That’s why utter transparency and real time provision of information is essential.”
Moglin included the need for information on U.S. military personnel who recently flew through radioactive plumes near Japan: “there are no numbers, and we were never told anything about external versus internal dose.”
A threat level for radiation?
Airborne concentration cannot predict with precision the amount of radiation contamination that will be deposited on a particular piece of land because of variables such as wind and rain.
None of the experts with whom we spoke, however, thought it was impossible or impractical to assign relative risk to different levels of airborne concentration. Ian Fairlie, a consultant on radioactivity including risks of internal emitters like Cesium-137, said he thought that there could be an easily-coded system for different levels of risk as a function of a the number of becquerels of a contaminant per cubic meter of air.
“That’s the kind of thing you want: you want something very simple, straightforward, that ordinary people can understand.”