The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has declared that radiation levels equivalent to thousands of chest X-rays are safe for first responders to a nuclear emergency, an about-face from previous safety standards. Ten years ago, the agency said no amount of radiation exposure was safe.
The new guidelines, which were published in September, have activist groups worried that the Trump administration will use them as a pretense for rolling back regulations.
"It’s really a huge amount of radiation they are saying is safe," Daniel Hirsch, the retired director of the environmental and nuclear policy program at the University of California—Santa Cruz, told Bloomberg. "The position taken could readily unravel all radiation protection rules."
The new guidelines were published in a September 2017 EPA advisory document on response to a nuclear emergency. "According to radiation safety experts, radiation exposures of 5-10 rem (5,000-10,000 mrem or 50-100 mSv) usually result in no harmful health effects, because radiation below these levels is a minor contributor to our overall cancer risk," the EPA said in the document. That level is equivalent to nearly 5,000 chest X-rays or seven to 14 chest CT scans, Bloomberg notes.
The 2007 version of that document said that no level of radiation was safe and that "the current body of scientific knowledge tells us this."
The new advisory does not change any federal laws. “EPA has not changed its standards regarding radiation exposure, and no protective guidelines were changed during this administration," EPA spokeswoman Liz Bowman said. "We are simply providing more supporting resources.”
EPA head Scott Pruitt has been criticized for holding views that contradict science. Notably, he has questioned whether human activity is responsible for climate change. “I knew that under Scott Pruitt EPA is in climate denial but now it appears to be in radiation denial, as well,” says Jeff Ruch, executive director of the Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility. “This appears to be another case of the Pruitt EPA proclaiming conclusions exactly opposite the overwhelming weight of scientific research.”