Environmental groups unveiled a new analysis Wednesday they contend warrants a re-examination of health impacts associated with Savannah River Site radiation.
“What we are saying is that you have a suspicious situation that certainly calls for a new inquiry,” said Louis Zeller, executive director of the Blue Ridge Environmental Defense League.
The 75-page report involved a year-long study of data from the U.S. Energy Department, state and federal environmental regulators and health departments in Georgia and South Carolina.
Among the findings were indicators that radiation levels are gradually increasing, rather than decreasing, as other studies have said; and that “radiosensitive” diseases and deaths – including infant and fetal deaths, thyroid and lung cancers and leukemia – exceeded the national average in the five-county area surrounding SRS, where about 2,000 “excess deaths” occurred since 2002.
Joe Mangano, the principal author and director of the Radiation & Public Health Project, acknowledged the conclusions are based on new interpretations and comparisons of existing data, but said the numbers raise enough questions to warrant more scrutiny.
“Many things can cause infant death and low birth weight and so on,” he said. “Radiation may not have caused all these deaths, but it certainly should be taken seriously.”
The study also found that cesium levels in deer and wild hogs killed at the site have increased in recent years, rather than decreased.
“We don’t go around testing humans,” Zeller said. “No one comes to you for hair or blood samples, so what they see in animals is the closest we can get.”
The study compared cesium levels in deer and hog tissue from the 1988-1999 period with levels recorded from 2000 to 2008, Zeller said. Results showed an 83 percent increase in cesium in hog tissue, and an 81 percent increase in deer tissue.
“This finding was a surprise,” Mangano said. “We expected levels of radiation to go down – and it was exactly the opposite.”
The complete study, he said, will be shared with Energy Department officials in hopes they will examine the data with an open mind.
“We don’t want to fight with them,” Mangano said. “We want them to take it seriously, to read it and to engage in conversation.”
Jim Giusti, an Energy Department spokesman at the site, said the group’s conclusions conflict with numerous studies by many agencies.
“I guess we’ll respectfully disagree with them at this point,” he said, adding, however, that site officials would welcome a copy of the analysis.
“Our data show the releases are doing down, not increasing, even with all the cleanup activity,” Giusti said. “At this point, we’d like to get the report, and then get the right people to look at it and review it.”