Forgot your password?
typodupeerror
Government Medicine Science

EPA Makes a Rad Decision 167

Posted by Soulskill
from the appropriate-dose-of-overreaction dept.
New submitter QuantumPion writes "The Environmental Protection Agency released draft guidelines last month that could significantly relax radiation hazard standards in the case of a radiological event in the United States by using risk-based decisions. The goal is to have limits that make sense in an emergency that are different from the limits in day-to-day life. From the article: 'Currently, the only guidance are the extremely strict standards that apply for EPA Superfund sites and nuclear plant decommissioning, which are as low as 0.010–0.025 rem/year, far below the natural background levels in the U.S. of 0.300 rem/year, and even well below the average amount of radioactive materials that Americans eat each year. And these guidelines aren’t really different from the 1992 PAG, except in the area of long-term cleanup standards and, perhaps, standards for resettlement. What’s the big deal here? As radworkers, we’re allowed to get 5 rem/year. 2 rem/year doesn’t rate a second thought. ... No one has ever been harmed by 5 rem/year, so setting emergency levels at 2 rem/year is pretty mild and more than reasonable. ... Think of it this way. The situations covered by these new guidelines are similar to someone dying of thirst who has the chance to drink fresh water having 2,000 pCi per gallon of radium in it. While the safe drinking water levels are 20 pCi/gal for Ra, 2,000 pCi/gal is of no threat, especially if you’re going to die from imminent dehydration. Of course, a bag of potato chips has 3,500 picocuries, so go figure.'"
This discussion has been archived. No new comments can be posted.

EPA Makes a Rad Decision

Comments Filter:
  • Oblig xkcd (Score:2, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward

    Radiation Chart [xkcd.com]

    • Re:Oblig xkcd (Score:5, Insightful)

      by lennier (44736) on Tuesday May 21, 2013 @09:32PM (#43789639) Homepage

      Radiation Chart [xkcd.com]

      Unfortunately that chart doesn't work for any kind of ingested radioactive substance, and it's kind of disingenous for Randall to present it as if it's a meaningful comparison. There's plan radiation, and then there's radioactive contamination in dust, liquid or aerosol form, and the second one is the gift that keeps on giving.

      IANAhealthphysicist, but I can read Wikipedia, and I'm pretty sure you get a lot more radiation damage to your cells if you eat or breathe in a radioactive particle than if you sit next to the same number of bequerels on the bench, because your body can incoporate the radioactive emitter directly into your cells for the entire rest of its (maximum of bioactive and radioactive) lifespan, and your skin won't screen out the alpha radiation like it does for an internal source. Iodine-equivalents are pretty nasty since although they have a half-life on the order of days, if they get inside you they dump all that radiation into your thyroid, which is not a good place to have it. Long-term, Radioactive strontium is the worst because it replaces calcium and so binds directly to your bone marrow, which is not good for leukemia. And potassium-equivalents are in the mid range, with a half-life on the order of months to years and they are bioavailable, but not permanently so. As far as we know.

      Oh, and a lot of those last have been dumped into the ocean by Fukushima, and are now inside fish. Do they bioaccumulate up the food chain? We're not really sure, but we'll probably find out. It's a wonderful science experiment!

      tldr: Don't eat, drink or breathe radioactive gunk. It's worse for you than it looks.

      • Re:Oblig xkcd (Score:5, Informative)

        by ShanghaiBill (739463) * on Tuesday May 21, 2013 @11:20PM (#43790309)

        tldr: Don't eat, drink or breathe radioactive gunk. It's worse for you than it looks.

        This advice is pretty much worthless, since no one is going to intentionally ingest radioactive gunk. So here is some useful advice:
        1. Buy a shaker of "no-salt" (KCl) or "lite-salt" (mixture of NaCl and KCl).
        2. Buy a bottle of water purification tablets (iodine).
        3. Buy a bottle of calcium supplements.
        You should do this now (or the next time you go shopping) because if you wait till after a radioactive event, they will be sold out. When there is a leak/detonation/whatever, you add these to your diet. The copious amounts of these elements will cause your body to expel the surplus in your urine, along with most of the radioactive isotopes of the same elements (or strontium in the case of calcium). This simple $10-$20 investment may save your life.

        • by Muad'Dave (255648)

          Buy a shaker of "no-salt" (KCl)

          You realize that the K40 in that no-salt is already radioactive, right [wikipedia.org]? From the article:

          "An adult human body contains about 160 grams of potassium, hence about 0.000117 x 160 = 0.0187 grams of 40K; whose decay produces about 4,400 disintegrations per second (becquerels) continuously throughout the life of the body."

        • This advice is pretty much worthless

          Only if you misapply it as advice for how to avoid harm from radiation. It's good advice if someone were comparing risk between internal vs external radiation measurements.

          Your advice is pretty much worthless, to a 103 year old man who is more likely to die from almost anything other than radiation damage to his thyroid.

          You were not wrong, and neither was he. And YOUR advice is helpful, but you really need to consider your delivery and not call someone's statement worthless just because you wanted to disc

      • Well, you apparently don't read very well. Inhaled radiation is definitely more dangerous. However, ingested radiation depends upon the type of radiation emitted and the specific element. Ingested uranium or plutonium will pass right through the body without being absorbed, so the exposure is very time limited. We ingest radioactive potassium every single day, in fact, our lives depend upon it, and >99% of all potassium on earth is radioactive.

      • The other key factor is that your skin can effectively block alpha particles, so alpha emitters are more or less safe to be around. The problem is when they get inside your body. Your skin isn't there to block the alpha particles, so they tend to rip stuff apart.
      • by postermmxvicom (1130737) on Wednesday May 22, 2013 @10:07AM (#43793529)
        Yes, eating certain radioisotopes is dangerous. Some isotopes concentrate in areas of the body and emit radiation that is much more harmful when it is in the body (alpha radiation).

        However, The chart is given in Sv. Sv takes into account that some radiation is more harmful than others. So, the biological effects from 1 mSv should be the same whether it came from an alpha emmiter or a beta emmiter.

        Again, some radionuclides concentrate in parts of the body (others are eliminated quickly - see effective halflife which combines radiological halflife and biological halflife). So, how can we know how many mSv we might get from ingesting one isotope or another? You want to look at commited dose [wikipedia.org]. This is a calculation of how much dose (mSv) you recieve from ingesting some radioisotope. You then use that figure, in mSv, to compare against the chart on xkcd. What you might be interested in is ALI [nucleonica.net] (annual limit on intake). This will give you an amount of a radionuclide (measured in activity or mass) that, if ingested, will give you the highest allowable dose (measured in mSv).

        So, you can compare the damage done by various radioisotopes done to you in various ways if you are comparing them in the right units, mSv. But you couldn't compare them just by giving the amount of substance (without considering what kind of radiation and what in the body was irradiated). But, those calculations can be done, and the answer is given in mSv or mrem. This is why the xkcd chart uses mSv for the units, so that a meaningful comparison can be made.
  • Article is devoid of citations. Are Irish spuds as highly radioactive as Idaho spuds? Are spuds from Oregon spuds from volcanic spuds as radioactive?

    Chips can't be radioactive if produced from material free of radioactive material.

    • "Are Irish spuds as highly radioactive as Idaho spuds?"

      What do you mean? Russet or Yukon Gold?

    • by krlynch (158571) on Tuesday May 21, 2013 @07:04PM (#43788557) Homepage

      Of course, potatoes can't be produced from material free of radioisotopes..... http://www.livestrong.com/article/303878-a-list-of-the-most-radioactive-foods/ [livestrong.com]

      Potatoes contain gobs of potassium, which has a naturally occurring radioactive isotope (K40). Bananas have the same issue. Unlike C14, K40 is primordial, so everywhere you have potassium, you have essentially the same concentration of K40.

      • by AmiMoJo (196126) *

        Our bodies have evolved to consume that stuff safely, but not the stuff that came out of Fukushima. Not all radiation is the same.

    • by Goaway (82658)

      Chips can't be radioactive if produced from material free of radioactive material.

      No such materials exist. At least no such biological materials. Both potassium and carbon are naturally radioactive, and biological matter contains plenty of them.

      • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

        by Anonymous Coward

        Quick ban potassium! The potential for dirty bombs is too great....

        Oh noooo the bananas!!!!!

        -ac because while I know this is funny and trendy I don't feel like being easily indexable by carnivore.

    • Chips can't be radioactive if produced from material free of radioactive material.

      Maybe potato chips are the secret ingredient in Andrea Rossi's E-Cat Cold Fusion machine . . . ?

    • by dissy (172727)

      Chips can't be radioactive if produced from material free of radioactive material.

      No, but if you made potato chips out of the element Lead and then ate them, you would die from a whole new set of reasons.

    • Potatoes are grown using commercial fertilizers. Fertilizer contains Potassium to promote leaf growth, which promotes bigger, healthier potatoes. Potassium naturally has a radioactive isotope, K40. There will be some uptake of K40 in each potato.

      Here [berkeley.edu] is a paper about theorizing that the lung cancer caused by smoking, is mostly caused by radioactive phosphates taken up by the tobacco plant due to heavy use of phosphate-rich fertilizers used to make bigger tobacco leafs, which also happen to contain Lead-2

  • It's All Relative (Score:4, Insightful)

    by IonOtter (629215) on Tuesday May 21, 2013 @06:56PM (#43788457) Homepage

    "We're changing the standards so you can't sue us immediately after the disaster. But if you get cancer 30 years down the line, we and our money will be long gone and no longer giving a darn in Pattaya Beach, Thailand."

    • Re: (Score:2, Redundant)

      by Xyrus (755017)

      You're going to have one hell of a time trying to prove your cancer 30 years down the road was caused by some insignificant radiation exposure and not some other biological/ecological factor. Carcinogens. Carcinogens everywhere.

    • by girlintraining (1395911) on Tuesday May 21, 2013 @08:12PM (#43789099)

      "We're changing the standards so you can't sue us immediately after the disaster. But if you get cancer 30 years down the line, we and our money will be long gone and no longer giving a darn in Pattaya Beach, Thailand."

      Okay, I know you're trying to be funny, but let's be serious for a moment: Why shouldn't the EPA try to limit lawsuits? They cost you and me, the taxpayer, a lot of money. It slows down the entire judicial process, and increases the cost of excercising your rights in the judiciary. There's filing fees now, lawyers fees, and every motion and such you file also costs money. This is fine for corporations who can just pass the buck on to their customers, but for Joe Average, commencing or defending against a legal action can easily bankrupt him. Is that fair? Shouldn't he be able to sue people who have legitimately wronged him as well -- or should that be something reserved only for the wealthy? Conversely, if he is on the receiving end... should he be bankrupted defending against an action that ultimately failed? Any contact with the judicial process tends to be highly corrosive to the average person. It is often ruinous, irrespective of the merits of their position.

      Given that, why shouldn't the government try to limit personal injury cases to those where the only evidence of harm won't surface for thirty years? Do you want a legal system that punishes people based on probability, or actuality? If so, thought crime suddenly becomes a lot more justifiable, as well as imprisoning people based on genetic markers, etc.

      But I do acknowledge that statistically, we know that in a given group of say, 100 people, if exposed to X intensity of radiation over Y amount of time, Z of them will develop health problems. We can't say with any confidence which of them will develop health problems, but we can say with confidence how probable it is that at least Z of them will. In a case like this where you know harm has happened but the costs won't be known for a long time, a fine seems like a better way to deal with this than lawsuits, provided the fine is proportional to the actual harm caused, plus whatever punitive damages are justified (was it really an accident, or negligence?).

      In this case, the government should be the plaintiff, not the individual. Conversely, the government should take the money gathered from these fines and put it into a general fund. If and when affected individuals develop health problems consistent with previously-documented radiation exposure, the government pays out of that fund.

      I think this is the most fair method of enacting justice in such a situation -- the companies (or individuals) involved are penalized shortly after the actual accident occurs, so there is financial incentive to prevent it in the future, and no possibility of them profiting from it later, but at the same time recognizing that we may not know for a very long time who was actually harmed, or to what degree.

      From the looks of it, this is more or less what the EPA is trying to do. Of course... such an elegant solution will never survive contact with Congress, but... it's the thought that counts.

      • by mad flyer (589291)

        Okay, I know you're trying to be funny, but let's be serious for a moment: Why shouldn't the EPA try to limit lawsuits? They cost you and me, the taxpayer, a lot of money. It slows down the entire judicial process, and increases the cost of excercising your rights in the judiciary.

        yeah, fuck people after all... it cost muney and stuff...

        • yeah, fuck people after all... it cost muney and stuff...

          Did you bother reading the rest of my post where I go into how we can balance public and private interests here without creating a cluster-f*ck of high cost litigation that ultimately winds up costing all of us? Or did you just knee-jerk your foot into your own mouth?

      • "Good news everyone! I've invented the Smell-O-Scope! We'll be able to sniff that radiation out!" Prof. Farnworth two minutes before dying of radiation poisoning.
      • by AmiMoJo (196126) *

        Do you want a legal system that punishes people based on probability, or actuality?

        Probability. If you drink and drive I don't care if you didn't hit anyone this time, what you did was extremely dangerous and should be discouraged.

        The situation is that we know radiation is harmful in some cases, but don't have the tools to determine if small doses are even if the patient goes on to develop cancer at some point in the future. We want to discourage people from releasing it though, that much is clear. And yes, that applies to everyone, not just nuclear plant operators.

      • by flink (18449)

        I think this is the most fair method of enacting justice in such a situation -- the companies (or individuals) involved are penalized shortly after the actual accident occurs, so there is financial incentive to prevent it in the future, and no possibility of them profiting from it later, but at the same time recognizing that we may not know for a very long time who was actually harmed, or to what degree.

        Knowing that the responsible party had a fine levied against them 30 years ago is scant comfort to the individual who ends up with cancer and the family that it bankrupts.

    • by dywolf (2673597)

      you didnt even read the summary, let alone TFA, before saying something completely inaccurate and ignorant.

      actually pretty typical for a slashdot poster.

  • future proofing the failure litigation.

  • by Anonymous Coward
    This isn't Fark
  • Everything with Potassium is Radioactive!!

    OMFG, let's all die of eliminating an essential mineral from our diets. :)

    BTW, That Red clay mud that half the country is covered with has Uranium in 3-4% concentration in a lot of places; thus the Radon problem.

    Vitamin R is provably good for your health, from thousands of Manhattan Project retirees, if you're not predisposed to leukemia...

    .

    • by drinkypoo (153816)

      BTW, That Red clay mud that half the country is covered with has Uranium in 3-4% concentration in a lot of places; thus the Radon problem.

      I would worry since that stuff is all around me, but I know from experience that there's no dirt in our soil, just a whole shitload of rocks.

    • 41K is stable, and it's 6.7% of Earth's potassium
      • by FirstOne (193462)

        41K is stable, and it's 6.7% of Earth's potassium.

        Potassium 39 is also stable, it makes up 93.3%. Only Potassium 40 is radioactive, (half life of 1.25 billion years), and it makes up just 0.012% of the Earth's Potassium.

        We don't consider ingestion of K to be a health hazard, quite the opposite, it's essential.. A 60Kg adult typically retains 120 grams of potassium in their body at any one time. If you consume more potassium, the body excretes the excess.

  • Mmmmm. Picocurries.

  • That's almost unheard of in any matters that contain the word "radiation".
  • by kelemvor4 (1980226) on Tuesday May 21, 2013 @07:12PM (#43788629)
    Rad, dude!
  • That's totally tubular, dudes!

  • Of course, a bag of potato chips has 3,500 picocuries, so go figure.'"

    So slashdotters are safe then, since we only eat cheetoes... which I expect have been so thoroughly processed to remove any and all traces of this "potato" thing you speak of to render it both nutritionally and radiologically inert.

    • Aren't Cheetoes made from corn?
  • Is to make rules more stringent, and ban Bananas [forbes.com]
    • by nojayuk (567177) on Tuesday May 21, 2013 @08:43PM (#43789297)

      Actually Japan didn't ban bananas. The Forbes writer got it wrong.

      The new tighter limits on food, water etc. set by Japan were for contamination due to cesium-134 and -137, byproducts of fission usually only found in the wild after a reactor goes wrong or from nuclear explosions. The "natural" levels of radiation from potassium, rubidium etc. are already factored in to the safety regs.

      I'm in Japan at the moment, I bought bananas a couple of days ago -- they're a cheap source of energy (and potassium too) since I'm doing a lot of walking around and sightseeing while I'm here.

  • Ever read Physics for Future Presidents [youtube.com]? It's a good source of scientific information that should influence public policy more than it currently does.

  • by Greyfox (87712)
    Maybe we should go have a talk to the FDA about "Radioactive materials Americans eat each year."
  • by Rambo Tribble (1273454) on Wednesday May 22, 2013 @10:13AM (#43793583)
    Since radioactive materials have been actively released into the environment for well over half-a-century, current background levels may not be a good measure of the actual, natural background levels.

...when fits of creativity run strong, more than one programmer or writer has been known to abandon the desktop for the more spacious floor. - Fred Brooks, Jr.

Working...