Environmental Defense Institute
News on Environmental Health and Safety Issues
|May 2005||Volume 16 Number 4|
DOWNWINDERS QUESTION NAS REPORT
A report by the National Academy of Sciences making recommendations to Congress regarding federal compensation for citizens harmed by radioactive fallout from nuclear testing at the Nevada Test Site (NTS) has raised questions and concerns among downwinders. The 387-page report, issued Thursday, recommends that Congress make significant changes to the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act (RECA). RECA currently compensates downwinders in only 21 rural counties in Utah, Nevada and Arizona who suffer from leukemia, lymphoma or any of 18 kinds of cancers.
Most important, the NAS report acknowledges that every county in the U.S. received some fallout from nuclear testing; that some areas not eligible under RECA were exposed to higher amounts of fallout than RECA-covered counties; and that eligibility should not be limited to current geographic boundaries. The report further recommends that Congress rely on scientific evidence to set new eligibility requirements for compensation.
However, the only U.S. study of downwinder effects from NTS fallout focused exclusively on radioactive iodine (I-131) and thyroid disease. The health consequences of exposure to other nuclear bomb products, such as cesium 137 and strontium 90, have not been well-characterized, although RECA presumes that such radionuclides are responsible for the other covered diseases.
A National Cancer Institute I-131 study clearly shows that as many as 212,000 lifetime cases of thyroid cancer could have been caused by fallout exposure. For the majority of cancers currently compensated under RECA, however, such studies have not been made. The NAS report claims that in the case of most other forms of cancer it is unlikely that exposure to radioactive fallout was a substantial contributing cause of cancer. So, while thyroid cancer downwinders across the country could be compensated if Congress enacts the NAS recommendations, the report minimizes the effects of other radionuclides and excludes downwinders with diseases not currently covered by RECA, despite a high incidence of many cancers among downwinders.
"The report is definitely a mixed bag that raises more questions than it answers," says Salt Lake City thyroid cancer survivor Mary Dickson. "While it has the potential of being good news for Americans with thyroid cancer, justice will not be served until all downwinders are equally compensated. The report is most significant in its acknowledgment that fallout affected all U.S. counties, but it recommends hard scientific evidence in order to compensate. Unfortunately, such evidence does not exist for the majority of fallout-related cancers because studies were never conducted, nor is it likely they will ever be funded. At this point, all the government has to do is wait for the evidence to die."
After reading about the report, thyroid cancer survivor Sylvia Gardener of Vernal, Utah said, "I doubt I'll ever live to see it [compensation]." Preston Truman, who has helped hundreds of people file RECA claims as the President of Downwinders, says he is not surprised by the report, but is very skeptical of it. "They're passing the radioactive buck to Congress," he says. "It's so easy to say we need more studies. More studies mean more delays. It's going to take years. By the time we get compensation, more people die."
Truman points to the irony of the timing of the NAS report announcement. The report was issued on the same day that the Bush administration is pushing for studies of new nuclear weapons called Bunker Busters and a day after the release of a National Research Council report concluding that the Bunker Busters would not be effective and would expose possibly millions of people to radiation. "Part of justice is acknowledging past mistakes and never letting them happen again," Truman says. Downwinders say the NAS report is ambiguous as to whether recommended changes would be grand-fathered into the current RECA program or whether RECA will be replaced. It's also unclear what Congress will do with the recommendations and who may be championing them through the system.
"It's very frustrating," says Emmett, Idaho downwinder Tona Henderson. "Maybe this will be something, but we have to fight so hard for anything we get. We've seen what the government can do to us, now we'll see what they can do for us."
Idaho writer and downwinder Valerie Brown noted the report's heavy focus on screening. "I think screening should definitely be available for all downwinders, along with full diagnosis, treatment and followup care for anyone with a RECA-compensable disease," she says. "However, those of us who have already been diagnosed with a RECA-compensable disease and can show residence in a fallout area during the relevant period should not be forced to jump through any hoops. The government should simply apologize and write out the checks. For downwinders who have not yet been diagnosed with RECA-compensable diseases, screening, treatment and compensation should be available. For downwinders whose diseases are not covered by RECA, more study may be necessary."
Brown emphasizes that further studies should be conducted by researchers independent of the Department of Energy, which has had either direct or indirect control over nearly all radiation health effects research in the U.S. "This is a conflict of interest since the DOE is the entity responsible for creating most of the radiation in the first place," Brown says. She says new studies must also address the problem of statistical significance in low-population regions such as Idaho, Montana, Nevada, Utah and Arizona, the very states most affected by NTS fallout. Since epidemiological studies require large populations to reveal associations between disease and external factors, research on downwinder populations is often inconclusive because of low numbers. "The government should not be allowed to shrug its shoulders and hide behind structural defects in research design," Brown says. "It should devise studies that capture real-world situations." (1)
No Automatic Compensation for Downwinders
Dan Popkey reports in The Idaho Statesman 4/28/05, "A long-awaited report on compensation for downwinders says there is no scientific reason to add Idaho or any other region to a federal program that pays $50,000 to cancer victims of Cold War bomb testing. The report released this afternoon is a blow to Sen. Mike Crapo's promise to fight to add Idaho downwinders from at least four counties to the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act (RECA).
"The 372-page report was prepared for Congress by the private non-profit National Academies of Science. (2)
"The NAS committee considered arguments to expand RECA in Idaho, Utah, Montana, New York and other states, based on a 1997 National Cancer Institute study that showed doses of radioactive iodine-131 to the thyroid exceeded those in the 21 Southwest counties where compensation is paid.
"NAS says RECA's compensation scheme is outdated. It recommends a new scientific standard covering all 50 states and overseas territories. 'To be equitable, any compensation program needs to be based on scientific criteria and similar cases must be treated alike,' said R. Julian Preston, chairman of the committee that prepared the report for the NAS's Board on Radiation Effects Research.
"Crapo acknowledged the need for Congress to consider a substantial amendment of RECA to reflect current science. But he said current law bases compensation for downwinders on geography. So, he said he plans to introduce legislation in the next few weeks including all of Idaho in RECA. 'We have the current paradigm which is in the law. The question is whether Idaho should be included or not. And I think the answer is yes.'
"The report was met with anguish in Emmett, where hundreds of citizens have mobilized to press for compensation there and in other hard-hit Idaho counties. 'I'm stunned,' said Tona Henderson, who gathered friends and cancer survivors at The Rumor Mill, a bakery she owns in Emmett, to review the report on-line after its release this afternoon. 'I feel sorry for all the people who had hope.'
"Henderson, who counts 40 members of her extended family as having cancer or thyroid problems, wants leadership from the Idaho congressional delegation. 'I'm hoping they see we have been affected, just by the people who've testified and written.'
IDAHO DELEGATION REACTS
"The delegation - Crapo, Sen. Larry Craig and Reps. C.L. 'Butch' Otter and Mike Simpson - were briefed Wednesday by Preston, director of the Environmental Carcinogenesis Division at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Four other members of the 10-member committee, Thomas Borak of Colorado State University, Dr. A. Bertrand Brill of Vanderbilt University, Thomas Buhl of the Los Alamos National Laboratory and Patricia Fleming of Creighton University, attended the private briefing.
"We recommended expanding the program in an equitable way,' Preston told The Idaho Statesman today. 'Fallout doesn't follow geographical boundaries. I would tell people in Idaho they are indeed included. We don't just address their concerns, we address the concerns of all people who may have been exposed.'
"Crapo acknowledged the report 'does not offer the immediate relief sought by Idahoans,' but vowed to continue to battle. 'This report's release marks the beginning of a new chapter for this issue and I remain committed to assisting those in Idaho who deserve compensation.'
"Said Craig: 'The Report affirms my contention that winds know no political boundaries. Limiting eligibility to certain counties is unwise. Idahoans deserve an opportunity to be considered for compensation. So, I will support Sen. Crapo in an effort to assist Idahoans who were harmed by the fallout from nuclear weapons testing.'
"Simpson said the model Congress adopted in the 1990 compensation law is outdated and that he's inclined to adopt the report's strategy for a national compensation plan. 'How do you justify going forward with an unfair program?' Simpson asked. 'We need a science-based approach to this and it ought to be nationwide.'
"He said practical politics mean Crapo's plan to add at least Custer, Gem, Blaine and Lemhi counties to the compensation plan probably can't pass Congress. 'The report makes it very unlikely that Congress would expand the program to include Idaho or Utah or any other area based on geography,' Simpson said.
"Simpson said the delegation discussed the issue after the briefing, but has not reached a consensus on what to do next. He didn't rule out supporting a bill to add Idaho to RECA, but said he's concerned about giving Idahoans 'false hope.'
"Otter said government must account for any damages to citizens, but that the 'report provides some hard scientific realities about the basis for compensation in Idaho and nationwide.'
"While those realities may be difficult for Idahoans to accept, I'm grateful for the work that's been done to establish the facts and give voice to the concerns of our people. Idahoans who believe they were hurt as a result of our government's actions continue to deserve our advocacy in this process, and I appreciate Sen. Crapo's leadership in that regard.'
"The anti-nuclear group Snake River Alliance said all U.S. thyroid cancer victims should immediately be compensated and that weapons production and testing should stop.
Jeremy Maxand, executive director of the Boise-based group, also called for more research on a broader range of radioactive isotopes, a recommendation echoed in the report.
CUSTER COUNTY, IDAHO
"The report extensively considers the case of thyroid cancer in Custer County, the second-hardest-hit county in the country with I-131 radiation. NAS uses the Custer County example based on age at exposure, radiation dose, consumption of store-bought milk and a cancer diagnosis in 2000.
"In such a case, cancer sufferers born between 1946 and 1952 would be eligible for compensation. Under a probability model used in legal claims that sets the standard at a 50 percent probability, only they would qualify for compensation because their disease was 'as likely as not' caused by fallout.
"Rep. Simpson said Congress might decide to adopt a looser standard than 50 percent probability. 'Congress could make it whatever exposure range it wanted,' Simpson said. 'Maybe we'd put it at 30 percent.' At 30 percent, victims from Custer County would also qualify if they were born between 1941 and 1945, under the example.
RISK WAS LOW ?
"NAS found that bomb-test radiation doses to sensitive tissues generally were small. 'With the exception of radiation exposure of the thyroid, the amount of radiation received from radioactive fallout was of the same magnitude or less than that received from natural background radiation over the same time period,' according to a NAS press release. 'Even in communities presently eligible for compensation, the risk of radiation-induced diseases is generally low.
"This and other scientific evidence led the committee to conclude that in most cases it is unlikely that exposure to radioactive fallout is a substantial contributing cause of cancer in downwinders,' said NAS.
"Even in the case of radiation to the thyroid, which hit children who drink milk particularly hard, the study suggests compensation based on geography is a slippery slope leading to arguments about justice across the nation, not just in Idaho.
"The report says people who lived in areas ineligible for compensation - including Idaho, Utah, Montana, Arizona, Nebraska, Indiana, Tennessee, New York and Vermont would have a claim to compensation under the current RECA standard. An imaginary male born Jan. 1, 1948, would have received doses exceeding radiation in some RECA-eligible counties.
"That result leads to confusion and concern,' says the report, adding that recommending RECA expansion based on geography is unsound. 'Doing so might well include counties throughout much of the United States.'
"Risk of radiation-induced cancer depends on diet, age at exposure and age at diagnosis in addition to dose. Therefore, the committee recommended a risk assessment that could be applied across the country to determine if 'an identified cancer was caused by radiation rather than by other agents.'
"The report says expansion of RECA based on geography 'would not be equitable in that for some cancers it may fail to compensate higher-risk people in ineligible areas, such as those exposed to I-131 fallout as newborns, and may compensate lower-risk people in eligible areas, such as those exposed at an advanced age.'
"The report bluntly downplays prospects of widespread compensation, saying, '...it is unlikely that a very large number of individuals with cancer, even thyroid cancer, would be newly eligible for compensation. The actual number will depend on the threshold criteria established by Congress.'
HOW WE GOT HERE
"RECA was co-authored by Utah GOP Sen. Orrin Hatch in 1990 and expanded with Hatch's leadership in 2000. Hatch, responding to calls in Utah and the Southwest to further expand RECA, helped secure funding in 2002 for the $1 million NAS study. He has urged further expansion to at least four more counties in Utah.
"In enacting RECA, Congress apologized to victims and provided for 'compassionate payments' because they were 'involuntarily subjected to increased risk of injury and disease to serve the national security interests of the United States.'
"Payments of more than $444 million have been authorized to 8,900 downwinders and their survivors who lived in 21 counties in Nevada, Utah and Arizona downwind from the Nevada Test site near Las Vegas. To get $50,000, they must have lived in the counties between 1951 and 1962 and suffer from one of 19 types of cancer.
"NAS recommends scuttling RECA's eligibility rules and requiring any new claim meet a 'probability of causation' test linking cancer to radiation exposure. The report rejects the standard adopted by Congress in 2000. President Clinton objected to adding counties and cancers to the program because science didn't justify it. But Congress was persuaded by the emotional stories of victims.
"To ignore the written and personal testimonies of the hundreds of victims themselves or survivors concerning their illnesses is unwarranted,' wrote the House Judiciary Committee. 'The strong evidence they have supplied is sufficient to provide relief.'
"Since the downwinders story exploded in Idaho in August, more than 500 Idahoans have written NAS to detail their stories. Their names appear in the report. Pressured by Crapo and the rest of the Idaho congressional delegation, NAS agreed to hold a hearing in Boise. Hundreds showed up at Boise State's Taco Bell Arena, and 75 people testified, many of them wracked by cancer.
"The NAS committee took pains to say it sympathized with those stories and wrote it was 'particularly attentive to the downwinders' complaints' they are ineligible for compensation because they didn't live in one of the 21 counties.
"However, the committee wrote, 'The scientific evidence indicates that in most cases it is unlikely that exposure to radiation from fallout was a substantial contributing cause to developing cancer.'
"Moreover, scientifically based changes that Congress may make in the eligibility criteria for compensation in response to this report are likely to result in few successful claims. The committee is aware that such conclusions will be disappointing, but they have been reached in accordance with the committee's charge to base its conclusions on the results of best available scientific information.'
SPEEDING THE PROCESS
"The report acknowledges establishing new criteria will take time, but adopts a method used in legal claims and other compensation programs. Also, the recommendation for pre-screening of populations for diseases, geographic areas and population groups in those areas would help 'ensure that claims are processed efficiently and rapidly.'
"The report says screening would discourage claims
unlikely to succeed. 'Citizens' concern to achieve equity
occupied much of the committee's deliberations,' says the
report. But the panel said it relied on science, deferring to
Congress policy questions about whom to compensate. 'The
decision rests with Congress,' wrote the panel." (3)
Downwinders Question CDC Decision to End Thyroid Study
After the federal government cut funding for a long-term study on the connections between thyroid disease and radioactive fallout from nuclear testing, downwinders are calling it the latest example of the government''s disregard for the tragic health legacy of nuclear testing. The Center for Disease Control announced in a March 21 letter to University of Utah researcher Joseph Lyon that they are yanking the funds for his Utah Thyroid Disease Study.
Lyon's study, which began in 1977, has been following a group of 4,000 residents of Washington County, Utah and Lincoln County, Nevada who were school children during the early years of testing. In 1993, the study found that fallout-related thyroid tumors increased 3.4 times over the expected rate among school children exposed to the highest doses. The government has already invested $8 million in the study, which was in its third segment. A CDC spokesman said the agency discontinued funding because it lacks the financial resources to continue the project, but a few days later another CDC spokesman said the study was reaching the end of its funding cycle and denied that it was being cut short. Without an extension, however, Lyon's study will never be completed and his data will have to be archived.
Downwinders were stunned to learn that former Utah Gov. Mike Leavitt, who now heads the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services which oversees the CDC, was quoted in the Deseret Morning News saying he is comfortable with the end of funding.
In a strongly worded editorial, the St. George, Utah Spectrum called on Leavitt to use his new political clout to 'assist those who our government deemed necessary to use as guinea pigs.'
"A lot of us are cynical about the whole thing,' says Preston Truman, president of Downwinders, who was one of the original members of a thyroid study in the 1960s. 'Maybe the CDC didn't like that Lyon's study was investigating other health effects caused by fallout exposure.'
St. George resident Jeff Bradshaw, who was participating in Lyon's study and suffers from thyroid problems, told the Spectrum. ' I'd just say it's another one of (the federal government's) schemes. I think they're trying to get away from doing anything for the downwinders because they want to start the testing again.'
"While admitting that funding issues are complex, downwinders remain skeptical of the CDC decision. 'It seems to be a matter of priorities,' says Salt Lake City downwinder Mary Dickson. 'The government, as Lyons noted, is still funding at least two major studies of the health effects of fallout from Chernobyl. Apparently, U.S. citizens don't rank as high as Russian citizens, which is hard for me to understand. Maybe the government doesn't really want to know what the health effects of testing were on our own population. How can we have a full acknowledgment of what testing did to Americans if the studies aren't there? How can justice be served?'
"It is ironic that the study, which has been billed by the CDC and other government agencies as what will be the definitive verdict on the health effects on downwinders is going to be terminated half-way to completion,' says Truman. 'That much more of the history of what really happened to downwinders can be ignored as it is already being ignored by the Atomic Testing Museum in Nevada. This is especially frightening when it comes at the same time the government is discussing renewed testing.'
A lot of people, including members of Utah's congressional delegation, have been waiting for the results of Lyon's study. When funds for the study ran low in 2003, Utah's Sen. Bob Bennett was instrumental in getting a one-year extension. Downwinders are urging Utah's congressional delegation and political leaders to do what they can to insure that the study will be completed. Rep. Jim Matheson's office is working with the Utah delegation on a strategy to secure additional funding for the project.
"Taxpayer money would be much better spent if the $25 million the government has earmarked for preparing the Nevada Test Site for renewed testing were put into finishing this study,' says Vanessa Pierce of the Healthy Environment Alliance of Utah." (4)
Idaho Downwinders Speak Out Against New Nuclear Bomb Tests
"The study, titled Effects of Nuclear Earth-Penetrator and Other Weapons, was begun in December 2003 to look into "the anticipated short-term and long-term effects of the use by the Unites States of a nuclear earth-penetrator weapon ... including the effects on civilian populations in proximity to the target area." According to the NAS's Web site, the study was intended to take nine months, after which a report would be released. No release date has been given for that report and the downwinder group claims the entire study was insufficiently publicized. As of press time, the head of the NAS study was not available for comment.
"Basically, what we're asking is that they cancel that study and if they want to start up bomb testing, that they do it in front of everybody,' says Dr. Peter Rickards, one of the letter's authors. 'We basically don't think [the nuclear earth-penetrator] needs to be studied or built at all, but if they're going to do it, at least let us comment on it.'"
Idaho Approves Preliminary Permit of Major Polluter
Belatedly, INL now is seeking to permit its high-level liquid waste evaporator, over a decade after construction began in 1993. This operation, basically, processes the mixed hazardous high-level radioactive liquid waste generated in the dissolving spent nuclear reactor fuel in the production of highly-enriched uranium used in U.S. Navy reactors and plutonium used in nuclear bombs. High temperatures are used to vaporize the liquid portions of this waste in order to reduce the volume. Atmospheric emissions are significant due to grossly inadequate filtration control mechanisms. Some condensed waste is sent to un-permittable underground tanks and some is dumped in unlined percolation ponds that allow the contaminates to migrate to the underlying Snake River Plain Aquifer.
INL's site-wide operations contractor, Bechtel BWXT Idaho, sent out a notice (3/24/05) of a Hazardous Waste Management Act/Resource Conservation Recovery Act (RCRA) permit modification for the Idaho Nuclear Technology and Environmental Center (INTEC) High-level Liquid Waste Evaporator that DOE euphemistically calls the "Evaporator Tank System (CPP-659)" housed in the New Waste Calcine Facility.
This "Evaporator" is at the head of the INTEC Liquid Waste Management System that also includes Process Equipment Waste Evaporators (PEWE), the Liquid Effluent Treatment and Disposal System ( LETDS), and the percolation disposal ponds. Also in the permit is the associated "Westside Holdup Tanks" located in (CPP641) that critics think do not fully meet double containment and inspection standards under RCRA. Throughput volumes will dramatically increase as DOE rapidly moves ahead with INL plutonium-238 production for NASA's space nuclear program discussed below.
Public comment period extends through 5/31/05. Send comments to Robert Bullock, Idaho Department of Environmental Quality, 1410 N Hilton, Boise, ID 83706-1255. (5)
NASA SPACE NUCLEAR ROCKET EIS
DATES: Interested parties are invited to submit comments on environmental issues and concerns in writing on or before May 31, 2005.
ADDRESSES: Hardcopy comments should be mailed to NASA Prometheus PEIS, NASA Headquarters, Exploration Systems Mission Directorate, Mail Suite 2V-39, 300 E Street, SW., Washington, DC 20546-0001. Comments may be submitted by e-mail to: email@example.com, or via the Internet at: http://exploration.nasa.gov/nasa-prometheus-peis.html.
NASA is entering the next phase in its scientific exploration of the solar system that will increase the use of nuclear systems. NASA says, this phase of exploration missions cannot be accomplished with the current propulsion, energy production and storage technologies presently available.
NASA maintains the nuclear rocket could enable multi-destination, multi-year exploration
missions. NASA says increased power and energy on-board the spacecraft would also permit: (1) Launching spacecraft with larger science payloads; (2) use of advanced high capability scientific instruments; and (3) transmission of large amounts of data back to Earth.
The EIS will articulate the purpose and need for space nuclear fission reactors for production of electric power and their relation to NASA's overall exploration strategy. The EIS is supposed to evaluate other power technologies to determine whether reasonable alternatives exist to meet NASA's purpose and need.
The Pentagon has long maintained they need nuclear reactors in order to provide the enormous power required for weapons in space. In a Congressional study entitled Military Space Forces: The Next 50 Years it was reported that "Nuclear reactors thus remain the only known long-lived, compact source able to supply military forces with electric power...Larger versions could meet multimegawatt needs of space-based lasers....Nuclear reactors must support major bases on the moon..." In an article printed in the Idaho Statesman on April 20, 1992 military officials stated "The Air Force is not developing [the nuclear rocket] for space exploration. They're looking at it to deliver payloads to space." Considering that NASA says all of their space missions will now be "dual use," meaning every mission will be both military and civilian at the same time, it is important to ask what the military application of the Project Prometheus will be.
KEY POINTS TO COMMENT ON
1) NASA & Department of Energy (DoE) have a bad track record of ecosystem contamination during the nuclear production, purification, assembly and testing process. Previous generations of the nuclear rocket were cancelled because of fears of environmental consequences.
2) The Pentagon has long maintained they need nuclear reactors for military use in space. What will be the military application of Project Prometheus?
3) NASA and DoE have underfunded research and development of alternative space energy sources. Scientists at NASA's Glenn Research Center in Cleveland, Ohio maintain that "there really isn't any edge of sunshine" if resources are put into developing new non-nuclear technologies for space travel.
4) What would be the environmental implications of a worst-case nuclear rocket accident? Why does the Price-Anderson Act limit U.S. liability to clean-up space nuclear accidents around the world?
5) In addition to the Florida space center, what other sites around the U.S. would launch the nuclear rocket?
6) Once the nuclear rocket is launched and reaches its destination, what happens when the radioactively contaminated rocket returns to Earth?
7) The enormous cost of the development of the nuclear rocket comes at a time when the U.S. national treasury faces enormous deficit. Our tax dollars would be better spent on health care, education, public transportation, and environmental restoration right here on planet Earth.
8) For all these reasons we call on NASA, DoE, and the Pentagon to cancel plans for Project Prometheus - the nuclear rocket. (6)
EDI Releases New Aquifer at Risk Report
DOE has consistently claimed in many environmental reports over the decades that INL contaminates move very slowly ("inches per year") into the aquifer and that there is "no record of any historical flooding" or of "INL contaminates reaching the public". However, USGS studies of flooding and other reports of the Idaho Nuclear Technology and Environmental Center (INTEC) alone document 41 lava tubes capable to moving contaminates rapidly ("6 miles per day") and thus potentially reaching the Snake River in 8 days. Admittedly, these deadly hazardous chemical and radioactive contaminates are diluted in the aquifer, but continue to show up at increasing levels in off-site sampling data and at aquifer discharge sites on the Snake River, as the documentation below clearly shows. Even at below regulatory limits set by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), few water users want radionuclides in their water no matter the level. EPA's regulatory limits themselves are challenged in court for not being adequately protective of human health.
If true, and this report challenges the assumption, by state and federal government agency public proclamations that it will take INL contaminates 100 to 200 years to reach the Snake River, offers little solace when those contaminates (i.e plutonium) have a deadly half-life of 24,000 years. The public justifiably demands additional independent groundwater studies that include the cumulative contaminate hazard of toxic chemicals and radionuclides in our water supply.
Immediate action is needed by federal and state regulators, in addition to public pressure, to ensure that all tank waste, buried radioactive and hazardous chemical wastes are exhumed (into safe interim storage), and that continued dumping of INL liquid process waste into unlined percolation ponds is terminated because it facilitates the flushing of pollution into the aquifer. The current Bush Administration cutbacks on "cleanup" funding at DOE sites and policy decisions designed to permanently leave huge quantities of deadly waste in current vulnerable underground disposal units portends a tragic legacy for future generations' water quality.
Time is of the essence, since every day that goes by, more of this deadly pollution migrates beyond any means of mitigation. The hazard of INL contaminates extends to most of Idaho via the Snake River. Arguably, since the Snake River is a primary tributary to the Columbia River, the INL contaminate impact zone extends to northern Oregon, southern Washington states, and Pacific coastal areas where the Columbia discharges into the ocean west of Portland Oregon.
Contaminate migration or "transmissivity" within the aquifer can vary widely depending on a number of the following factors:
1. Disposal method (i.e. direct injection to the aquifer, discharge to unlined percolation ponds, or subsurface solid waste landfills).
2. Waste chemistry (i.e. high levels of acids/solvents in the waste discharge facilitate transmissivity).
3. Volume of discharge (i.e. large volumes [used extensively to dilute waste] produce hydriodic pressure to move waste laterally and horizontally).
4. Chemical characteristics of individual contaminates (i.e. tritium acts just like water and volatile organic compounds move freely, or plutonium [insoluable] particles that bond with soil/rock particles as "colloids" and move more slowly).
5. Sampling location (i.e. directly under a disposal site, or at a distant location not as affected by disposal dilution volume or flooding recharge flushing).
6. Flooding of disposal site (i.e. proximity to the Big Lost River flood plain) that periodically add to flushing of contaminates deeper into the aquifer and transit southwest to the Snake River.
7. Chemical characteristics (i.e. ph values) of underlying soils and rock that can significantly affect transmissivity.
8. Rates of contaminate transmissivity (also called conductivity or "Kd values") vary widely within the available agency literature and DOE's public statements making public review doubly difficult.
The full Environmental Defense Institute report is
available on EDI's website:
A Craig Downwinder Story
"Sen. Larry Craig has kept it to himself, but he has his own heartbreaking downwinders story. I didn't hear it from Craig. His mother, Dorothy, told me about it last week, explaining there'd been a death in the family she believes is linked to nuclear fallout.
"What do you think of this downwinder thing?" began Mrs. Craig, 84, who lives in Payette. "It's all true. Emmett is eaten up with cancer, and it's just a tragedy. It was on the grass, trees, shrubs and everything. The cows ate it, it went into their milk, the buttermilk, cheese and everything."
She then told me a story like scores of others I've heard since first writing last August about the impact of nuclear fallout on Idaho from Nevada bomb tests between 1951 and 1962.
Mrs. Craig's beloved niece, Dana Meyers, died March 24 at her home in Pocatello, felled by cancer that spread from her lung to her eye to her liver. She was just 47. And she was Sen. Craig's cousin.
An outdoor writer, artist, publisher and business consultant who loved Yellowstone, skiing, bison, needlepoint and organic food, Dana was especially close to Mrs. Craig. When she visited the Treasure Valley on business, she stayed with Aunt Dorothy and Uncle Elvin.
"She was a dynamic little redhead," said Mrs. Craig. "It's such a multiple tragedy for the family. It just about killed us all." In 2002, Dana and her husband, Dan Christopherson, built an apartment for Dana's mom, Mary Heavner, next to their house. Heavner, Mrs. Craig's younger sister, had broken her hip and Dana wanted her nearby. Dana laid a brick patio and planted tulips, daffodils and roses.
"It's all in bloom right now," Heavner told me by phone. "I can sit here and look at it, and I'm sure she's looking down on it, too."
Sen. Craig spoke with Dana several times after her diagnosis in early 2004, urging her and Heavner to write letters to the National Academies of Science (NAS) to consider as they weighed recommending expansion of the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act (RECA).
"He's always been caring and calls a lot," said Heavner. "He's a wonderful nephew."
Heavner said Mrs. Craig explained how Dana was a likely candidate for compensation under RECA - if the law applied in Idaho. Dana was born in 1958 in Custer County, which ranked No. 2 in the nation in iodine-131 fallout, according to the National Cancer Institute. She also lived in Lemhi County, No. 5 in the nation.
Her mother was unable to breast feed, so Dana drank milk from the dairy in Challis. That's the top risk factor for delivering high concentrations of radiation to the thyroid in children. "The only thing that agreed with Dana was whole milk," said Heavner. "When she was born, she had bottle after bottle, and when she was growing up, all my kids drank milk at the table."
After learning of the I-131 data, Heavner said, "We just figured she didn't stand a chance."
Sen. Mike Crapo has taken the lead on winning compensation for Idaho downwinders. It's not been lost on folks that he sees the issue through a personal lens. His brother, Terry, died of leukemia. A sister, Phyllis, is a cancer survivor. Crapo just completed his 38th treatment for a recurrence of prostate cancer.
While Sen. Craig is healthy, he's been mum about illness in his family. But his cousin Mel's wife, Katherine, who lived in Custer and Lehmi counties, died of cancer in 2002. His dad, 87, has fought prostate cancer for 15 years. Elvin Craig told me he doesn't believe his cancer is connected to fallout, but that some illnesses in Gem, Payette and Washington counties may be a product of bomb tests.
"It doesn't look good out there at all," said Elvin Craig. "It came right through the valley, but I never even gave it a thought. It hit Emmett the hardest, then it came on into Payette and into Weiser and I don't know how much farther it did go."
Gem County was No. 3 in the nation for I-131, according to the Cancer Institute. Washington County, where Sen. Craig grew up, got more I-131 than all but four of the 21 counties in Nevada, Utah and Arizona where cancer victims qualify for $50,000 payments under RECA.
Christopherson said he's convinced Sen. Craig will fight hard to win compensation for Idahoans. He spoke with Craig after the senator attended an NAS hearing in Boise in November. "He said the incidence of it really smacked him in the face," said Christopherson. "That really shook him up."
Shortly after Dana's death, Sen. Craig visited his aunt and Christopherson. "He's following up and his heart is in it," said Christopherson. "It's not only his family, but he has a number of friends and people he knows that have a high incidence of cancer. That's affected him."
"Larry's quite adamant about it," said Mrs. Craig. "He feels there's a definite tie-up."
Heavner agrees. "He's not going to drop the ball on this - if only because of his Dad and Dana - but that isn't the reason he's doing this." I wasn't able to talk to Sen. Craig, who was away and not available. His staff declined comment, saying the topic was too personal.
In August, I criticized Craig for dropping the ball when he vowed to fight for Idaho downwinders after release of the Cancer Institute report in 1997, but failed to seize the chance to add Idaho when RECA was expanded in 2000. Since the story exploded last summer, he's played it close to the vest, awaiting the NAS report.
That changed Thursday, when the report was released. Craig swiftly said he wants to add all of Idaho to RECA. I can't help but think his shared experience with Idahoans scarred by cancer is a force driving his fresh commitment to downwinders."
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1. .This entire article is derived directly from the April 29, 2005 Press Release by Mary Dickson, Preston
Truman, and Valerie Brown. For more information see www.downwinders.org April 29, 2005 Press Release by
Mary Dickson, Preston Truman, and Valerie Brown. For more information see www.downwinders.org
2. The 372-page NAS report can be read at http://books.nap.edu/catalog/11279.html
2. The 372-page NAS report can be read at http://books.nap.edu/catalog/11279.html
3.Dan Popkey, Idaho Statesman (firstname.lastname@example.org) (http://www.idahostatesman.com)
4.Downwinders Press Release, 3/30/05, March 30, 2005, Preston Truman, 208 766-5649
Mary Dickson, 801 232-3471
5. IDEQ usually has "fact sheets" available on their website. This is major air and water polluter
at INL. Extensive Environmental Defense Institute preliminary comments are available at our
5. IDEQ usually has "fact sheets" available on their website. This is major air and water polluter at INL. Extensive Environmental Defense Institute preliminary comments are available at our website: www.environmental-defense-institute.org
6.For more Information Contact: Global Network Against Weapons & Nuclear Power in Space
PO Box 652, Brunswick, ME 04011, (207) 729-0517 email@example.com