Improvements to Savannah River Site’s environmental monitoring reports could reduce radiation and health concerns among nearby Georgia residents, according to a scientist at the federal nuclear facility.
“We already do fish sampling from New Savannah Bluff Lock and Dam all the way down to Savannah,” said Gail Whitney, a physical scientist in the U.S. Energy Department’s Environmental Quality Management Division.
During a presentation Tuesday to the SRS Citizens Advisory Board, Whitney said numerous organizations – both within and outside of SRS – play a role in monitoring that includes analysis of air, fish, game, soil, milk, produce, vegetation and other materials.
Although reports compiled by SRS for many years have shown no signs of public health hazards on either side of the Savannah River, the absence of an independent monitoring program in Georgia has been a perennially divisive issue since 2005, when the Energy Department halted funding for a Georgia program it helped establish in 2001.
DOE supported that program from 2001-04 but discontinued funding in 2005, saying similar studies on the South Carolina side of the river were sufficient.
Discussions for restoring federal funding re-emerged in 2010, when Energy Department officials discussed offering Georgia an annually renewable allocation of $750,000. Before any funds were awarded, the proposed sum was reduced to $300,000 per year in light of leaner budgets.
In February 2012, however, Energy Department officials reneged entirely as budget constraints made funding the grant impossible.
Although there are no new plans to resume federal funding to Georgia’s Environmental Protection Division, the Energy Department does plan to improve the way it communicates information about the complex reports it issues each year.
One major change under discussion includes improving the quality of the maps used in SRS reports to better show residents the location and scale of monitoring sites.
Other plans include adding a section to specifically address monitoring and sampling in Georgia, in addition to South Carolina, Whitney said.
Over the past decade, many studies – including a health assessment by the federal Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry – have been conducted without identification of public health hazards resulting from SRS operations, she said.
Anti-nuclear activists who lobbied for the restoration of the Georgia program say separate monitoring is still needed.
Bobbie Paul, the director of Georgia Women’s Action for New Directions, said her group has pushed for the restoration of funds and the state’s monitoring program.
The group’s most recent efforts have included meetings in November and January with Energy Department officials and a representative from the White House Office of Environmental Management.