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NYS Senator's Bill Would Require DOH To Publicly Report Radiation Data

New York State Senator Pete Harckham
Courtesy of NYS Senator Pete Harckham

A New York state senator has introduced legislation that would mandate the state to publicly publish data and analysis about environmental radiation.

Democratic state Senator Pete Harckham’s bill would direct the state health commissioner to publish an annual report on the environmental radiation surveillance program on the department’s website and present an analysis of its data.

“This is something that’s been required by the state for quite some time, and yet the report has not been published on an annual basis. The data has not been published. And this is important information,” says Harckham. “Environmental pollution has many forms, whether it’s air pollution, water pollution and radiological pollution.”

Harckham says the state began collecting such data following the March 1979 Three Mile Island nuclear accident in Pennsylvania, the only state to do so. Joseph Mangano is executive director of the Radiation and Public Health Project.

“It’s very important because, in 1994, the mandated collection and reporting of information on levels of radioactivity in the environment was halted by the New York state Health Department,” says Mangano.

Harckham’s 40th District is home to the Indian Point nuclear power plant, where Unit 3 is slated to permanently shut down at the end of April. The plant will then enter decommissioning. Indian Point Unit 2 permanently shut down in April 2020.

“Now while it’s an active radiological site, the owner of the site certainly has that responsibility under federal law, but the surrounding community, and once the decommissioning is complete, we need to know that that community is safe,” says Harckham.

He says the state does not collect radioactivity data from specific energy generating facilities, as this is required of the facilities’ operators for licensing. Mangano is an epidemiologist who is well-known for his studies of Strontium-90 in baby teeth to measure radiation levels in people living near nuclear plants.

“Indian Point next month is going to be closed, so we don’t have to worry, right?  Well, not correct, because, first of all, we need to know the current levels of radioactivity, especially if they exceed EPA set limits; and b), decommissioning is not exactly a clean process,” Mangano says. “It is a, it’s a lot of moving things around and, in that process, radioactivity can get kind of stirred up.”

He says public reporting would improve accountability.

“This allows us to do better what we do in our group, to do better health studies of disease and death rates in areas near nuclear plants,” Mangano says. “It’s important to have those rates of community and deaths, but it’s also important to know how much radiation is out there and is getting into people’s bodies.”

Harckham says making the report and analysis available to other state agencies would provide caution to hunters and anglers about consuming animals taken in areas with high radioactive contamination. Harckham believes he will garner support for his bill.

“I think every, every community has a concern for this, whether it’s a superfund site, a landfill, naturally occurring radon,” says Harckham. “This is another form of pollution that impacts New York state, and we’re already taking the measurements; all we’re saying is let’s have the data and the analysis made public.”

The legislation also directs the Department of Health to notify other relevant state agencies if detected radioactive contamination exceeds federal Environmental Protection Agency standards allowed in drinking water or food. A state Department of Health spokesperson did not provide comment in time for this broadcast.

Meantime, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission has issued its final report on the safety performance of Buchanan-based Indian Point, with all 2020 inspection findings and performance indicators green, which means very low safety significance.

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