Groups Criticize Homeland Security Plans to Relax Radiation Cleanup Standards for a "Dirty Bomb" or Terrorist Nuclear Explosive
Doses Equivalent to Tens of Thousands of Chest X-rays Could be Allowed, Officially Estimated to Cause Cancer in Up to a Quarter of Those Exposed
WASHINGTON, DC - More than 50 public policy organizations today called on the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to halt plans to dramatically weaken requirements for cleaning up radioactive contamination from a terrorist radiological or nuclear explosive. The groups disclosed that DHS is about to release new guidance that could permit ongoing contamination at levels equivalent to a person receiving tens of thousands of chest X-rays over thirty years. Official government risk figures estimate that as many as a quarter of the people exposed to such doses would develop cancer.
In a letter to outgoing DHS Secretary Tom Ridge, the groups said, "An attack by a terrorist group using a 'dirty bomb' or improvised nuclear device would be a terrible tragedy. . . .But should such a radiological weapon go off in the U.S, our government should not compound the situation by employment of standards for cleaning up the radioactive contamination that are inadequately protective of the public."
"Far from protecting us from the potentially catastrophic health effects of a terrorist dirty bomb, by permitting such high radiation levels to remain without cleanup, Homeland Security would actually be increasing the casualty count," said Diane D'Arrigo, Radioactive Waste Project Director at Nuclear Information and Resource Service. "Approval of this guidance would also set a dangerous precedent to weaken the already inadequate cleanup standards for nuclear-contaminated sites across this country."
"Benchmark" cleanup standards contemplated in the DHS guidance are up to 2500 times less protective than the risk levels considered by EPA as barely acceptable for cleanup of Superfund toxic and radioactive sites.
"We recognize that response actions in the immediate aftermath of a terrorist incident may require extraordinary measures and doses," said Daniel Hirsch, President of the Committee to Bridge the Gap and initiator of the group letter, "However, it is unacceptable to set final cleanup goals so lax that long-term cancer risks are hundreds of times higher than currently accepted for remediation of the nation's most contaminated sites."
In a parallel letter to Environmental Protection Agency, the groups urged Administrator Michael Leavitt to resist any effort to establish cleanup standards that permit public risks significantly outside EPA's longstanding legally allowable risk range.
Signers include Committee to Bridge the Gap, Nuclear Information and Resource Service, Union of Concerned Scientists, Sierra Club, Physicians for Social Responsibility, Public Citizen, and Greenpeace. The full letters to Ridge and Leavitt and supporting attachments are available upon request.
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