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EPA Proposal Could Raise Radiation Exposure Limits

Health + Wellness
liz west / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

You can add radiation to the list of pollutants for which the Trump administration is looking to loosen restrictions.

That loosening could come as part of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) already controversial proposal "Strengthening Transparency in Regulatory Science," The Associated Press reported Tuesday.


The proposal, which has been criticized by the scientific community for limiting the kinds of studies the EPA can use to make regulatory decisions, could also open the door to raising the safe threshold for exposure to certain toxins, including radiation. That's because it includes a provision instructing regulators to consider "various threshold models across the exposure range" when it comes to setting rules for dangerous substances.

The proposal doesn't mention radiation in particular, but the press release announcing the proposal quoted University of Massachusetts toxicologist Edward Calabrese, who is a proponent of raising the threshold for radiation exposure, saying doing so would save money and boost health. Calabrese, who was set to testify on the proposal at a Congressional hearing Wednesday, believes that small doses of radiation and other carcinogens can actually strengthen the body's ability to repair itself, in the way that exercise or sunlight do.

"The proposal represents a major scientific step forward by recognizing the widespread occurrence of non-linear dose responses in toxicology and epidemiology for chemicals and radiation and the need to incorporate such data in the risk assessment process," Calabrese said in the press release.

Current government regulations say that any exposure to harmful radiation could cause cancer, and opponents of the change say raising that threshold could put nuclear workers, oil and gas employees, medical professionals conducting X-rays or CT scans and people living near Superfund sites or any other radiation leak at risk.

"If they even look at that—no, no, no," said Terrie Barrie, a Craig, Colorado resident and nuclear exposure compensation advocate for her husband and other workers at the closed Rocky Flats nuclear weapons plant Terrie Barrie told The Associated Press. "There's no reason not to protect people as much as possible."

Physicist Jan Beyea, who has done work on the 2011 Fukushima nuclear power plant accident for the National Academy of Sciences, told The Associated Press that the notion advocated by Calabrese and others, that small doses of radiation can be helpful, was "generally dismissed by the great bulk of scientists."

The National Council on Radiation Protection and Measurements reaffirmed that there was no risk-free level of radiation exposure this year after a review of 29 public health studies.

Up until March, the EPA's online guidance on radiation said that "Current science suggests there is some cancer risk from any exposure to radiation." But an edit in July emphasized low individual cancer risk for small doses of exposure. "According to radiation safety experts, radiation exposures of ... 100 millisieverts usually result in no harmful health effects, because radiation below these levels is a minor contributor to our overall cancer risk," the updated guidance says.

EPA spokesperson John Konkus said Tuesday that the science transparency proposal would not change radiation policy. "The proposed regulation doesn't talk about radiation or any particular chemicals. And as we indicated in our response, EPA's policy is to continue to use the linear-no-threshold model for population-level radiation protection purposes which would not, under the proposed regulation that has not been finalized, trigger any change in that policy," he said.

Public comment on the draft proposal closed in August and the EPA said it would review the more than 590,000 comments it had received this fall.

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Unity Task Forces formed by presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden and Sen. Bernie Sanders unveiled sweeping party platform recommendations Wednesday that—while falling short of progressive ambitions in a number of areas, from climate to healthcare—were applauded as important steps toward a bold and just policy agenda that matches the severity of the moment.

"We've moved the needle a lot, especially on environmental justice and upping Biden's ambition," said Sunrise Movement co-founder and executive director Varshini Prakash, a member of the Biden-Sanders Climate Task Force. "But there's still more work to do to push Democrats to act at the scale of the climate crisis."

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In a series of tweets Wednesday night, Ocasio-Cortez—the lead sponsor of the House Green New Deal resolution—noted that the Climate Task Force "shaved 15 years off Biden's previous target for 100% clean energy."

"Of course, like in any collaborative effort, there are areas of negotiation and compromise," said the New York Democrat. "But I do believe that the Climate Task Force effort meaningfully and substantively improved Biden's positions."

 

The 110 pages of policy recommendations from the six eight-person Unity Task Forces on education, the economy, criminal justice, immigration, climate change, and healthcare are aimed at shaping negotiations over the 2020 Democratic platform at the party's convention next month.

Sanders said that while the "end result isn't what I or my supporters would've written alone, the task forces have created a good policy blueprint that will move this country in a much-needed progressive direction and substantially improve the lives of working families throughout our country."

"I look forward to working with Vice President Biden to help him win this campaign," the Vermont senator added, "and to move this country forward toward economic, racial, social, and environmental justice."

Biden, for his part, applauded the task forces "for helping build a bold, transformative platform for our party and for our country."

"I am deeply grateful to Bernie Sanders for working with us to unite our party and deliver real, lasting change for generations to come," said the former vice president.

On the life-or-death matter of reforming America's dysfunctional private health insurance system—a subject on which Sanders and Biden clashed repeatedly throughout the Democratic primary process—the Unity Task Force affirmed healthcare as "a right" but did not embrace Medicare for All, the signature policy plank of the Vermont senator's presidential bid.

Instead, the panel recommended building on the Affordable Care Act by establishing a public option, investing in community health centers, and lowering prescription drug costs by allowing the federal government to negotiate prices. The task force also endorsed making all Covid-19 testing, treatments, and potential vaccines free and expanding Medicaid for the duration of the pandemic.

"It has always been a crisis that tens of millions of Americans have no or inadequate health insurance—but in a pandemic, it's potentially catastrophic for public health," the task force wrote.

Dr. Abdul El-Sayed, a former Michigan gubernatorial candidate and Sanders-appointed member of the Healthcare Task Force, said that despite major disagreements, the panel "came to recommendations that will yield one of the most progressive Democratic campaign platforms in history—though we have further yet to go."

 

Observers and advocacy groups also applauded the Unity Task Forces for recommending the creation of a postal banking system, endorsing a ban on for-profit charter schools, ending the use of private prisons, and imposing a 100-day moratorium on deportations "while conducting a full-scale study on current practices to develop recommendations for transforming enforcement policies and practices at ICE and CBP."

Marisa Franco, director of immigrant rights group Mijente, said in a statement that "going into these task force negotiations, we knew we were going to have to push Biden past his comfort zone, both to reconcile with past offenses and to carve a new path forward."

"That is exactly what we did, unapologetically," said Franco, a member of the Immigration Task Force. "For years, Mijente, along with the broader immigrant rights movement, has fought to reshape the narrative around immigration towards racial justice and to focus these very demands. We expect Biden and the Democratic Party to implement them in their entirety."

"There is no going back," Franco added. "Not an inch, not a step. We must only move forward from here."

Reposted with permission from Common Dreams.

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