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Some in EPA Fear Nuclear Emergency Guide Risks Public Safety

Some officials at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency have expressed concern that a Bush administration radiological incident response guide could jeopardize public health as it would permit the drinking of water with high contamination levels, Inside EPA reported Tuesday (see GSN, Dec. 5, 2007).

The Obama administration put off issuing the protective action guide for radiological incidents not long before it was supposed to be published in January 2009. The document is meant to provide advice on dealing with the release of radiation from a terrorist attack or mishap at a nuclear power facility or industrial site.

A draft of the document indicates that the public could drink water that has radiation levels thousands and even hundreds of thousands times greater than what the Environmental Protection Agency typically would permit in crisis situations, Inside EPA found.

Exposure levels allowed in the document for two particular radionuclides "may lead to subchronic (acute) effects ... such as vomiting, fever, etc.," one EPA Superfund office employee stated in a 2007 e-mail message. An official from the agency's General Counsel's Office appeared to concur later.

The head of the agency's Radiation and Indoor Air Office, which produced the guide, disagreed. The office's "health physicists advise that this is not true and that OGC's comment to this effect is ill-founded," according to ORIA Director Tom Kelly. Staffers in Kelly's office, in e-mail messages, also played down the likelihood of contaminated water causing cancer.

Inside EPA obtained the e-mails through the Freedom of Information Act (Inside EPA, March 16).

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