Earlier this month, the EPA proposed new protective action guides (PAGs) that would allow far more radioactive contamination in drinking water in the case of an emergency than what is currently allowed under the Safe Drinking Water Act.
The Safe Water Drinking Act was created with the purpose of protecting our public drinking water supplies. It enables the EPA to establish and enforce health standards for contaminants in public drinking water and mandates public notification of any violations and public distribution of annual quality reports. This includes protecting our drinking water, health and safety from any radiological release, including a nuclear power disaster like Fukushima, or a “dirty bomb” emergency.
Although these new guidelines are not replacing the Safe Water Drinking Act, during emergency situations they would allow levels of radioactivity in drinking water as much as 125 times higher than what is currently allowed. The new guidance would permit levels of radiation exposure that are as many as 250 chest X-rays a year.
Why would the EPA even propose such a thing? The EPA’s proposed guidelines give local decision makers more control and flexibility in the event of an emergency. But these proposed guides are intended to take effect after any radioactivity has been contained and stabilized—and people could be stuck drinking radioactive water for months to years after the PAGs go into effect.
We need laws and guidelines in place to protect us in case of emergency, and this proposal makes little sense. We have the ability to provide replacement water if a community’s primary water source is contaminated. People should have clean drinking water in an emergency and shouldn’t be forced to drink water that’s not considered safe under the Safe Drinking Water Act. That’s unacceptable under any circumstances.
We need to make sure the EPA and President Obama know that we deserve to have access to clean drinking water at all times—and that no one should have to consume radioactive water, no matter the emergency.