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Radioactive Drinking Water

The revised “Protective Action Guide” may allow a huge spike in the amount of radioactivity allowed in drinking water.

| December 2016/January 2017

  • Radioactivity in drinking water can spike for different reasons, such as Fukushima-type nuclear meltdowns or transportation spills.
    Photo by Fotolia/Mr Doomits
  • The radioactivity allowed in U.S. drinking water may spike dramatically.
    Photo by Istock/Imgorthand

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) last issued guidance on radioactivity levels allowed in drinking water in a 1992 “Protective Action Guide.” Now, that guide is being revised following a recently concluded public comment period.

According to Food & Water Watch (FWW), a national environmental advocacy organization, the new guidance would allow the population to drink water hundreds to thousands of times more radioactive than is now legal. The new proposed level of radioactivity allowed in drinking water would be a 925-fold increase, and allow the exposure of people to radiation equivalent to receiving 250 chest X-rays per year.

Radioactivity in drinking water can spike for different reasons, such as a Fukushima-type nuclear power meltdown or a radiopharmaceutical transport spill. FWW explains that all radionuclides can cause cancer and other health and reproductive problems. EPA documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act show that the EPA itself concluded that the proposed concentrations would exceed the maximum limits of the Safe Drinking Water Act by a significant factor.

Note that the EPA’s guidance on radioactive water isn’t the same as a law. The EPA says it has “proposed non-regulatory guidance that authorities can use to protect residents from experiencing the harmful effects from radiation in drinking water following an emergency.” Still, some scientists and members of the public are expressing concern.



“It is inconceivable that the EPA could now quietly propose allowing enormous increases in radioactive contamination with no action to protect the public, even if concentrations are a thousand times higher than under the Safe Drinking Water Act,” says Dr. Catherine Thomasson, Executive Director of Physicians for Social Responsibility.

You can follow the EPA’s updates on the guidance levels of radioactive water here.



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