Monday, May 23, 2011

Spin Baby, Spin! Texas Drinking Water Contains Radioactive Contaminants

By Theodora Filis

For more than 20 years, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) under-reported the amount of radiation found in drinking water provided by communities all across Texas. As a result, health risks to people consuming the water have been underestimated in many water systems where radioactive contaminants are present.

The TCEQ regulates water systems for compliance with federal safe-water drinking regulations. However, back in November it was discovered that the state regulating agency consistently took radiation readings it received from the water testing lab run by the Department of State Health Services and lowered the "official" radiation readings reported by the independent lab. This helped some utilities avoid radiation violations that could have forced them to clean up their water decades ago.

Video On: TCEQ Fraud-Cover-Up eXposed! by TexasObserver

E-mails and documents, released under order from the Texas Attorney General to KHOU-TV, show the agency was attempting to help water systems get out of formally violating federal limits for radiation in drinking water. Without a formal violation, the water systems did not have to inform their residents of the increased health risk.

It’s a conspiracy at the TCEQ of the highest order,” said Tom Smith, of the government watchdog group Public Citizen. “The documents have indicted the management of this commission in a massive cover-up to convince people that our water is safe to drink when it’s not.”

For decades, test performed by the Texas Department of State Health, showed, the utility provided, drinking water exceeded the EPA legal limit for exposure to alpha radiation. In an email dated October 30, 2007, a TCEQ drinking water team leader questioned a senior director on the lowering of state radiation reading levels. The TCEQ was told:

I believe there may been some EPA guidance on not subtracting, but can’t remember back that far for sure. This has been the practice in Texas since day one of radionuclide monitoring. This option was thoroughly discussed with the commissioners and the (executive director) staff when the reg was being adopted. We were directed to maintain the current methodology for subtracting the counting error at that time.”

Three years earlier, the same TCEQ director presented written testimony on behalf of the TCEQ to the Texas Water Advisory Council. The testimony notes that the TCEQ was aware of the new rules the EPA published on Dec. 7, 2000, saying the federal agency had “issued guidance for calculating radionuclide levels for compliance.”

However, the TCEQ also told the Council: “Under existing TCEQ policy, calculation of the violation accounts for the reporting error of each radionuclide analysis. Maintaining this calculation procedure will eliminate approximately 35 violations.”

As a result, the subtracting method continued and residents of MUD 105, like Brenda Haynes, were never sent a required notice of violation. That notice would have informed them about the excessive alpha radiation in their water.

Alpha radiation is emitted from radionuclides such as uranium and radium. While health scientists have said it poses little danger if someone is externally exposed to it, the experts maintain that ingesting even the smallest amount of the particles can cause damage to DNA, and in rare cases, cause cancer.

The Texas Water Advisory Council, which reviewed the TCEQ testimony on June 7, 2004, included then-chair of the TCEQ Commission Kathleen Hartnett White, then-Agriculture Commissioner Susan Combs, General Land Office Commissioner Jerry Patterson, Sen. Robert Duncan, and other lawmakers and state leaders.

Under federal law Texas, and other states, are only allowed to enforce EPA rules, according to the Safe Drinking Water Act, if the EPA determines the state has adopted drinking water standards that are “no less stringent” than the federal rules.

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