News Feature | June 17, 2016

EPA Issues Guidance On Drinking Water Safety For Nuclear Disasters

Sara Jerome

By Sara Jerome,

The U.S. EPA has proposed new guidelines for restricting drinking water after a nuclear incident, partially a response to the disaster at the Fukushima nuclear power plant in Japan.

The agency’s Draft Protective Action Guide advises officials on how to react to “a nuclear meltdown or a dirty bomb, a weapon that combines conventional explosives such as dynamite with radioactive material,” ThinkProgress reported. “During a radiological emergency, radioactive material could be released into the rivers, lakes, and streams used by public water suppliers.”

The EPA guidance says “emergency responders should restrict the general population's consumption of drinking water after a radiological incident occurs if the water has a radionuclides concentration of at least 500 millirem projected dose in the first year,” Bloomberg BNA reported.

“Anyone younger than 15, or pregnant or nursing should abide by a more-stringent 100 millirem projected dose in the first year until the incident is under control,” the report said, citing the EPA’s June 6 draft.

The draft won praise from water utilities who appreciated that the EPA action is a guidance rather than an additional regulation. Mike Keegan, an analyst for the National Rural Water Association, weighed in.

“When faced with contamination in the drinking water supply, local officials have to make immediate and difficult public welfare decisions,” he told Bloomberg BNA. “Their options may be limited by lack of alternative sources of drinking water or no possible way to immediately treat the drinking water.”

Some environmental advocates, however, said the guidance does not go far enough.

“The upshot really is that the [nuclear] industry really wants to be able to release more radioactivity and not be responsible for it,” Diane D’Arrigo, a project director at the Nuclear Information and Resource Service, told ThinkProgress. “This is really a big loss.”

“These levels are even higher than those proposed by the Bush Administration, really unprecedented and shocking,” she added.

For similar stories visit Water Online’s Drinking Water Regulations And Legislation Solutions Center.