The Environmental Protection Agency is weighing a plan to rewrite science regarding the amount of tolerable human exposure to low-level radiation. The EPA has touted the work of a scientist who promotes the idea that a little radiation could actually be good for you.
Despite prevailing medical and scientific research showing a direct link between various forms of cancer and low-level radiation, the EPA wants to rewrite exposure guidelines in an apparent nod to industries that either produce radioactive waste or encounter it in their operations, such as gas fracking and oil drilling.
Easing the danger threshold helps corporations reduce their costs and boost profits. But it decidedly does not mean that radiation, even at low levels, isn't hazardous to human health.
The EPA rethink is happening not because scientists suddenly are surging forth with new findings about supposedly beneficial effects of radiation. Rather, the agency is relying on the findings of a single outlier, Edward Calabrese, a University of Massachusetts toxicologist.
Reducing EPA standards on exposure "would have a positive effect on human health as well as save billions and billions and billions of dollars," Calabrese stated in 2016. He told a Senate oversight panel on Oct. 3 that cancer risk assessments on radiation are "based on flawed science" and "ideological biases."
Calabrese appears to suggest that high cancer rates among humans exposed to radiation from atomic bomb research and explosions in the 1940s and '50s caused an overreaction regarding the threat from lower-level exposures. Scientists concede that low-level radiation might not be as harmful as once feared, but that's a far cry from being harmless or beneficial.
The new proposed EPA guidelines coincide with Trump administration efforts to de-emphasize science if it relies on health data that cannot be revealed without violating individuals' right to privacy. In April, then-EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt declared, "The era of secret science at EPA is coming to an end." If source data remained secret, the administration would discount it in determining environmental and climate policy — a Catch-22 situation because medical data involving individuals' health records must be kept secret under the 1996 Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act.
This new interpretation would be great news for companies whose landfills contain tons of radioactive waste that they want to keep capped and buried in an unlined pit instead of spending millions of dollars to dig it up and transfer it to a proper radioactive-waste facility. Oil- and gas-drilling companies could realize major savings if pipes and other equipment contaminated by underground radioactivity were designated as safe and allowed to be reused.
Sure, it would mean some residents or oilfield workers are exposed to potentially dangerous radioactivity. But think of the savings for Trump's big-business donors!
REPRINTED FROM THE ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH