A report that the Trump administration set the allowable level of nuclear radiation 10 times higher than the drinking water standard during the Obama years sent shockwaves through the media, but the report isn’t quite accurate.
Bloomberg reported on a recently-released FAQ document that allegedly set radiation standards at a level many times higher than what the Obama administration recommended for drinking water in the event of a nuclear disaster.
The story suggested the Trump Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) was quietly “weakening radiation safety levels.” Bloomberg’s report was based on documents provided by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER), a liberal group.
Bloomberg reported the FAQ said the high levels of radiation “usually result in no harmful health effects, because radiation below these levels is a minor contributor to our overall cancer risk.” Bloomberg noted a similar 2007 document found there are no safe levels of radiation.
But there’s one glaring problem. The September 2017 FAQ is a public communications document based on guidelines released by the Obama administration in January, not the Trump administration.
The “Protective Action Guides” (PAG) manual was released days before President Donald Trump took office, and the guidelines have no force of law. They are for emergency situations where people could be exposed to high levels of radiation for relatively short periods of time.
Bloomberg did mention the Obama administration’s last-minute guidelines, but claimed the FAQ document recommended radiation safety levels 10 times higher — hence, it’s Trump’s fault.
Bloomberg reported the FAQ document said “radiation exposures of 5-10 rem (5,000-10,000 mrem or 50-100 mSv) usually result in no harmful health effects,” which was allegedly ten times higher than the 500 millirem radiation threshold for drinking water set by the Obama administration.
But that’s comparing apples and oranges.
The 500 millirem threshold laid out in the PAG manual is just for radiation in drinking water. The drinking water standard is lower for vulnerable people, like pregnant women and children, at 100 millirems.
The 5,000 millirem standard, on the other hand, relates to radiation exposure from the whole range of sources for up to one year, not just levels in water.
“The [International Commission on Radiological Protection] recommends reference levels in the range of 2,000 to 10,000 mrem (20 to 100 mSv) for protection of human health in emergencies, and in the range of 100 to 2,000 mrem (1 to 20 mSv) for occupational exposure, exposure by caregivers, or residential radon exposure,” according to the PAG manual.
EPA also did not change any regulations related radiation safety. The PAG manual is purely for planning purposes in the event of catastrophe, and it doesn’t supplant daily radiation standards.
“The PAGs are developed for up to one year of exposure,” EPA’s Office of Water said, according to a statement provided to The Daily Caller News Foundation.
“In comparison, the [daily radiation standards] were developed assuming 70 years of continuous exposure,” EPA noted. “The PAGs are intended to 1) prevent short-term health effects, 2) balance protection with other important factors that may arise during an emergency (ensuring the actions result in more benefit than harm) and 3) reduce the potential for chronic, or long-term, health effects.”
And the PAG manual lays out that “[r]adiation doses should be reduced to below [Safe Drinking Water Act levels] as soon as practicable” after a nuclear disaster.
“EPA has not changed its standards regarding radiation exposure, and no protective guidelines were changed during this administration,” EPA spokesman Michael Abboud told Axios. “The guidance was released on January 11, 2017 — before the President was inaugurated.”
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