GOP Effort To Block EPA Radiation Surveys In Florida Faces Opposition

Superfund Report – 09/05/2011
GOP Effort To Block EPA Radiation Surveys In Florida Faces Opposition
Posted: September 2, 2011
Environmentalists and a key House Democrat are pushing back against a GOP effort to block EPA from doing aerial surveys that could inform a potentially precedent-setting cleanup of an area in central Florida where the agency fears tens of thousands of people living on former phosphate mines may be exposed to dangerous levels of radiation.
At issue are approximately 10 square miles of such lands near Lakeland, FL, where EPA has taken no cleanup action despite its concerns dating back to the late 1970s over residential radiation. EPA’s concerns, made public by an award-winning series of Inside EPA articles in 2010, have prompted a negative reaction from GOP lawmakers representing the area, who say the fears are overblown.
In February, the lawmakers — including GOP Florida Reps. Dennis Ross, Gus Bilirakis, Vern Buchanan, Richard Nugent and Thomas Rooney — sent a letter to EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson in which they take issue with EPA having recently conducted a preliminary aerial survey near the area in question. The survey, which was expected to set the stage for a much more extensive flyover of the area, is considered to be a key early step in a possible cleanup process (Superfund Report, July 11).
Ross, who plans to meet with Jackson in the coming weeks to discuss the issue, is preparing to insert an amendment blocking any additional EPA survey work in the fiscal year 2012 budget bill when it is recalled to the House floor in the coming months. The amendment would block surveys “of any facility in the State of Florida in Polk county or Hillsborough county that is listed in” EPA’s Superfund database, known as the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Information System (CERCLIS) (Superfund Report, Aug. 8).
But the measure may be countered by Rep. Edward Markey (D-MA), who has raised concerns about the Florida phosphate issue in the past. According to a Capitol Hill source, Markey continues to track the issue and may speak in opposition to the Ross amendment when it comes up on the House floor.
In addition, Florida environmentalists are urging Jackson to reject the demands of the GOP lawmakers. In a July 20 letter, the activists say they “strongly support a fully scientific review of the impacts of phosphate mining, including the aerial radiation surveys which are long overdue.”
The groups, which include the Sierra Club Florida Phosphate Committee, Protect Our Watersheds and People Protecting Peace River, say that in addition to aiding EPA’s Superfund evaluation of the former mining areas, information gleamed from the surveys should be included in the Area-Wide Environmental Impact Statement that EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers are preparing relative to proposed new phosphate mines in Florida (Superfund Report, Oct. 15).
The activists also take issue with the GOP lawmakers’ assertion that EPA’s preferred cleanup standard for the Florida sites is “arbitrary.” The activists note that the standard, which dictates that concentrations for radium-226 in soil should not exceed 5 picocures per gram (pCi/g) above what naturally occurs in an area, “is a longstanding national standard which has been used at may sites nationwide to evaluate risk.”
“It would be highly improper to apply a different rule for Florida, or to refuse to look at the data because you don’t want to know what it says, which is the underlying premise of the [GOP] letter,” the activists say. Relevant documents are available on Inside (Doc ID: 2374487)
In their letter, the GOP lawmakers complain that “Florida’s real estate market is already under significant duress as a result of the economic downturn” and that “potential actions by EPA stand to impede Florida’s recovery.”
But the activists challenge this assertion, saying that aerial surveys “allow a scientific evaluation of risk and can have the effect of lifting the stigma currently associated with many such sites.”
The GOP congressmen presume “that this is a debate between economics and public health,” the activists continue. “This simply isn’t true. It’s a debate between powerful narrow corporate interests and a broader regional interest in environmental, public and economic health.” — Douglas P. Guarino
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Douglas P. Guarino
Associate Editor
Inside Washington Publishers
(Inside EPA’s Superfund Report)
1919 South Eads Street, Suite 201
Arlington, VA 22202