The EPA has proposed changing US regulations regarding harmful substances in a way that would weaken protections from radiation exposure. In an email, EPA spokesman John Konkus said that the proposed rule change is about “increasing transparency on assumptions” about how the body responds to different doses of dangerous substances. The measure does not mention radiation exposure directly.
Critics are saying that the changes would weaken the way radiation exposure is regulated. Radiation is all around us and is mostly benign, but higher-energy, shorter-wave radiation can penetrate and disrupt living cells. The government’s current guidance, established decades ago, says that any exposure to harmful radiation is a cancer risk.
After a review of nearly 30 public health studies on cancer rates among people exposed to low-dose radiation, the National Council on Radiation Protection and Measurements reaffirmed this year that there is no threshold of radiation exposure that is risk-free. Twenty of the studies directly supported the conclusion that low-dose exposures cause a significant increase in cancer rates. None supported the theory there is a safe threshold for radiation.
Supporters of the EPA’s proposal say weakening limits on radiation exposure would save billions of dollars and have a positive impact on human health. Some are saying that smaller exposures of radiation can act as stressors to activate the body’s repair mechanisms, ultimately making people healthier. They point to sunlight as an example of this in action.
In July, the EPA’s online guidelines for radiation effects was revised to add: “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 proposed change could lead to higher levels of exposure for workers, especially those at nuclear installations, oil and gas drilling sites, and medical fields involving X-rays and CT scans. It could also result in higher levels of exposure for anyone living next to Superfund sites or who might one day find themselves exposed to a radiation release.