The Alliance For A Clean Environment
Printable Version

January 10, 2000

David Allard, Director
Bureau of Radiation Protection
Department of Environmental Protection
P.O. Box 8469
400 Market Street
Harrisburg, PA 17105 – 8469

Dear Mr. Allard

ACE has questions for DEP to answer and comments for DEP to evaluate concerning radiation in the Pottstown Landfill, as well as what radiation has been released, what radiation is now being released, and what radiation could be released from the stacks at Occidental Chemical. Potential radiation exposure is of paramount importance to every person in our heavily populated area. The high background radiation levels in our area are additive doses of radiation, and in no way a reason to dismiss our concerns about additional radiation exposures from the landfill, which adds to the risk. ALL radiation exposures do carry a risk of injury to the recipient, of cancer, leukemia, heart disease, mental retardation, and, potentially, immune system dysfunctions, a great variety of consequent illnesses, premature death, and genetic damage to future generations.

DEP’s report called “Investigation of Radioactivity In AIR Downwind of Pottstown Landfill Gas Combustion Stacks” is very confusing and disappointing, and is missing a date and an author. The entire report tells us nothing about radiation in the Pottstown Landfill GAS. The first three pages of this seven page document do not even deal with radiation from the Pottstown Landfill in the AIR downwind. DEP has mixed up information from a 1997 radiation report on Pottstown Landfill leachate, ground water, and soil and sediment, with that of this recent, insufficient and inadequate testing for what we were told would include Pottstown Landfill GAS. DEP did not test the Pottstown Landfill GAS for radiation. Testing for diluted air downwind is entirely different.

DEP did not do comprehensive radioactive testing for the broad spectrum of radiation which could be present in the Pottstown Landfill, based on dumping of unmonitored, unlabeled radioactive waste, in addition to the massive amounts of radioactive waste which DEP and NRC permitted to be dumped in Pottstown. Unless you can verify all the types of radiation dumped in Pottstown, how do you know what to test for? Who planned this study, did the sampling, prepared the report, and drew the conclusions? Please send us this information as soon as possible.

On page one, DEP states radioactivity levels in the leachate samples from several cells and in the leachate treatment system were, in general, higher than in ground water but “not at levels of concern.”

ACE Comments:

The “levels of concern for radiation exposure” to which DEP refers, were established long before substantial evidence was available, based on studies of human beings exposed to radiation, which revealed the dangers of low levels of radiation exposure.

Evidence is available from people studied at Hiroshima and Nagasaki, that there is no safe dose of radiation, and that the lowest doses have caused the greatest cancer increases per unit of radiation. Human data from the three accidents of radioactive releases at Chernobyl, Three Mile Island, and Savannah River, Georgia also indicate that the lowest doses of radiation cause the greatest human damage per unit of radiation. This evidence confirms that the government’s estimate of the hazards of low-level radiation is low, and that today’s allowable limits for human exposure to radiation will allow at least 30 times more deaths than our government admits.

Allowable doses of radiation are calculated on the basis of what regulators consider “safe” for an average male, but not for the developing embryo and fetus, rapidly growing young children, pregnant women, the aged, or impaired people. EPA considers “acceptable” a fatal cancer risk of 1 : 10,000 for radiation compared to 1 : 1,000,000 for most pollutants. The NRC standards for radiation exposure from licensed activities allow a lifetime fatal cancer risk of 1 in 286.

DEP can not claim ignorance of this evidence. ACE has shared information with numerous DEP individuals on many occasions concerning the effects of low level radiation on human health, along with other research, which has revealed that low-level radiation has been linked with leukemia. ACE has also reminded DEP on many occasions that the Montgomery County Health Department documented doubled leukemia in the Greater Pottstown Area compared to the entire state of PA. Still, DEP continues to go to great efforts to attempt to minimize the effects of all the radioactive waste dumped in the Pottstown Landfill. For example, in spite of the radioactive waste which DEP has permitted to be dumped in the Pottstown Landfill, in a letter from DEP to ACE on September 29, 1998, DEP stated “As determined by an earlier study, the radioactivity found at the landfill site is attributable to natural sources, the levels detected are considered not to be a risk to the public.”

In spite of evidence from exposed populations, DEP continues to use outdated information regarding “levels of concern” for our radiation exposure. DEP also ignores the multiple, additive, cumulative, and synergistic impacts of radiation exposures on human health. It appears that DEP wants us to ignore all the current information on radiation risks to our health and all the long-established information that all radiation exposures carry risks to people. This is hardly a responsible position to espouse.

DEP, NRC, and EPA have all obviously been aware, for quite some time, of the radioactive “problem” at the Pottstown Landfill. The NRC and EPA attended the meeting in March of 1997, which DEP held in Pottstown to report on the radiation they found from the Pottstown Landfill in the leachate, soil, sediment, and ground water. The NRC admitted that they had been discussing the radiation problem at the Pottstown Landfill for over a year with DEP. That evening, the NRC stated their position that the Pottstown Landfill is DEP’s responsibility. NRC said they have offered and continue to offer DEP their laboratory resources if that would help with the analysis. Was the NRC laboratory used to try to get comprehensive gas testing done? EPA admitted that evening they had talked regularly to the NRC and DEP about this problem. One of the things EPA referred to was the elevated beta found by DEP at the Pottstown Landfill.

It is obvious that there has been ongoing concern since at least 1996 about radioactivity in the Pottstown Landfill. While the regulatory agencies involved continue to argue about responsibility, the risks to residents of our community continue.

Questions for DEP to Answer:

With substantial evidence of human harm from low doses of radiation now available, why hasn’t DEP addressed this unprotective level of concern? Why hasn’t this updated evidence been considered and used by DEP to evaluate the very serious situation in Pottstown?

On page one, concerning soil and sediment DEP states, “The only man-made radionuclide detected was cesium-137, a fission product produced in nuclear weapons and in reactors.” DEP concludes, in the soil samples taken around the landfill, the most logical source of the Cs-137 found is fallout from 1950 to 1960 weapons testing. There are two obvious possible additional sources.

1. Did DEP investigate enough to know that this is absolutely not from the massive amounts of radioactive waste dumped in this landfill from Cabot since 1983? Can DEP verify all the types of radiation included in the 35,000 tons per year, dumped in the Pottstown Landfill from Cabot since 1983? Does DEP know what Cabot Industries has worked on since 1983? Is it possible that Cabot has worked on nuclear weapons or parts of nuclear weapons?

2. Since there is a nuclear reactor just several miles away from this landfill and since radioactive sludge has been documented to have been dumped in the landfill from a local laundry, how can you be sure the Cs-137 is not from those sources, instead of fallout from 40 to 50 years ago?

Please answer these two questions, and document what research you used to come to your conclusion that rules out these possibilities as the cause of the Cs-137 detected around the Pottstown Landfill.

ACE is terribly disturbed and concerned about several comments made by Bill Kirk, DEP’s Chief in the Division of Radiation Control at the Bureau of Radiation Protection.

1. At the meeting to report the initial radiation testing on March 11, 1997, Mr. Kirk admitted that he was involved in an investigation of the Three Mile Island accident and said he found mostly zeros. There is evidence that the Three Mile Island accident caused harm to human health. Since Mr. Kirk found mostly zeros in his investigation at Three Mile Island, how safe can we feel from his findings in Pottstown?

2. On March 11, Mr. Kirk stated that there is no broad spectrum test which would include all types of radiation. Massive amounts of radioactive dumping have been permitted and documented to have been dumped in the Pottstown Landfill since at least 1983. It is possible that even much more radioactive waste was dumped than was permitted to be dumped, because there is no radiation monitor at the Pottstown Landfill. Massive amounts of sewage sludge have also been dumped in the Pottstown Landfill. This has been found to contain low levels of long-lived fission products. Since there is no broad based spectrum test to include all types of radiation, how is it possible for DEP to determine there was no threat to our community from the all the types of radiation which have been dumped?

3. On March 11, Mr. Kirk stated that tritium has very low energy. Does this mean that tritium is not perceived as a threat to our health by DEP, even though it was found at such high levels?

4. On June 7, 1999, at the Landfill Gas Forum meeting Mr. Kirk admitted that he was involved with some earlier testing that found there was a fair amount of radioactivity in the landfill. Why was there no in-depth investigation into this radioactivity, immediately after the earlier testing results? How can DEP expect us to believe that there has not been a problem with exposure to this radioactivity?

5. On June 7, Mr. Kirk stated that there was a lot of tritium in the landfill. He then speculated on the source being a few radioactive exit signs. Such speculation, without any research to support it, has a deceptive and misleading effect. Other possible sources, which should have been considered and investigated, include at least 35,000 tons a year of radioactive waste from Cabot since 1983, radioactive sludge from INS, and massive amounts of hospital waste. The December 1, 1999 DEP radiation report admits that the source of high levels of tritium is not known, but also attempts to lead us into the same speculation about self-luminous signs. To our knowledge there has been so scientific investigation to back up these speculations. How can Mr. Kirk or DEP expect us to believe, with all the radioactive waste dumped in the Pottstown Landfill, that the source of this tritium is just exit signs?

6. On June 7, Mr. Kirk stated that it was logical that some of that tritium would come out in the gas from the landfill, and it could easily get converted to tritiated methane or one of the other gases in the landfill. With this expectation, why wasn’t the landfill gas tested for radiation? Only the air downwind of the landfill was tested. The effects of this radioactive exposure do not just begin at the time of combustion and we understand that gases escape through the cover. When will DEP check the landfill gas itself for tritium?

7. On June 7, Mr. Kirk also stated that he would guarantee us that there were thousands of homes within a 50-mile radius of the landfill that had very high radon levels. If DEP knows so many people in this area are already at risk from high levels of radon in their homes, why was so much radioactive waste permitted to be dumped at the Pottstown Landfill? The additive risk for people who live in this area has made a bad situation worse.

On Page 6 you refer to DEP Staff from the Southeast Regional Office investigating the configuration of the landfill gas collection system to ensure that gas from cells W-2 and 10 were being burned in the generator and flare during collection. Cell number 7 was not identified to have been included. We would like verification in writing from the DEP individuals who investigated, to prove that cell number 7 was included. This is important because Cell 7 originally revealed 4 times higher tritium than the only other two cells tested.

The DEP radiation report of March, 1997 clearly revealed very elevated tritium levels with great variances between the three cells tested. Why didn’t DEP then test the other cells in the landfill for tritium? The absolute range of tritium found in air ranges at the landfill site, is not clearly identified in your report. Could you clarify this amount? Also, are you telling us that the regulatory limit of 100,000 pCi/m will not harm our health?

On Page 6 you state that the only radioisotope identified in the particulate filters was beryllium-7, a naturally occuring cosmic ray generated radionuclide. You did not identify any amounts of beryllium-7 that were found in the particulate filters. Please identify the amounts of beryllium-7 that were found in the filters. Did Cabot Industries ever work with beryllium? DEP has alluded that the berryllium found came from cosmic rays. Can you guarantee us that there was no beryllium-7 in any of the 35,000 tons of radioactive waste dumped in Pottstown every year since 1983?

On Page 7, DEP says tritium APPEARS to be the only radionuclide in landfill gas and would be converted to tritiated water in a combustion process. You refer to the tritium levels found in this study as being 50,000 below the applicable regulatory study, but you do not tell us what the levels are that were found in the air under conditions comparable to those proposed at Occidental.

1. We would like to remind DEP that Occidental would be burning over 5 billion cubic feet of this landfill gas every year containing this radiation. This would be released directly over our hospital and a day care center, as well as thousands of other people living and working in that area. Whatever the amount, in that staggering amount of landfill gas burned every year, it is not insignificant.

2. Our concern is legitimate. We must think of all that tritium as it may enter the body and its impacts within the body. If tritium can remain up to 12 days in the body and can be extremely pervasive, what could its impacts be on all those people? That is also our concern for all the other radioactive isotopes to which we are exposed from the Pottstown Landfill, which you claim are below “regulatory concern.”

In the conclusion of this report DEP claims that the radionuclides being released from the landfill are not of regulatory concern.

ACE comments identifying the unprotective issues involved with this statement:

1. DEP, EPA, or NRC regulations concerning radiation exposures have not been updated to reflect what has been learned in the past 10 years with regard to the effects of low level radiation exposures. Impacts of radiation on human health have been grossly underestimated by our protective agencies and therefore exposed communities like Pottstown are not given the true facts. The exposed population is not getting the protection they need and deserve.

2. When the current standards were set, they never looked at radiation effects on the most sensitive people, or those with impaired health, or children, or the embryo or fetus in development.

3. It has been established that additive impacts of radiation exposure are significant. Still this is not considered in regulatory concern. Sources are considered separately. Additives, the totality of multiple sources, are not taken into consideration. For example: DEP keeps referring to naturally occurring radiation and the high content of background, or radon in homes as reasons to dismiss the serious radiation exposure concerns in Pottstown. Just because something is naturally occurring, does not mean it will not harm human health (example, lead). Naturally occurring radiation, high background radiation, high levels of radon in homes, are all more reasons to be concerned. They are ADDITIVES in a concentrated area where over 100,000 people live within 10 miles of the Pottstown Landfill, which is loaded with vast amounts of a variety of radioactive waste. NOT OF REGULATORY CONCERN? IT SHOULD BE!

4. Multiple sources of exposures are also not considered in regulatory concern. Synergies and cumulative impacts of radiation exposures with the entire range of chemicals and other contaminants are also not considered when establishing regulatory concern.

5. Long-term chronic radiation exposure is not a part of regulatory concern either.

6. It would be impossible for DEP to claim that the radioactive releases from the Pottstown Landfill are not of regulatory concern for still another reason. DEP has no way of knowing the full range of radiation that went into this landfill. There has never been radiation monitoring at the Pottstown Landfill. So in addition to the radioactive waste from Royersford which you mention in your report, there were massive amounts of medical waste, (864,000 tons in just one

year alone), and since 1983, at least 35,000 TONS PER YEAR of radioactive waste from Cabot. These were just the massive amounts of radiation wastes permitted by DEP and NRC. Does DEP know the types of radiation which were in the 35,000 tons from Cabot? What about the radioactive things people throw away which are unregulated, as well as potentially illegal dumping of radioactive waste? With no radioactive monitoring, who knows? Since neither DEP nor anyone else can be sure what radiation went into the Pottstown Landfill, why didn’t DEP do a complete range of radioactive testing? You have done only very limited testing for only a few types of radiation. The Pottstown Landfill has the potential to contain almost every type of radiation in significant amounts. Without doing a broad spectrum test on Pottstown Landfill GAS, DEP can not claim radiation is not a threat to the health and safety of our community.

7. Limited radiation testing of only the air and not the gas itself, and for only a few types of radiation has provided limited data, but in no way can you use this to reassure us that this landfill gas is not a major factor in the doubled leukemia compared to the state, faced by the people of Pottstown. Nor, can you use it to fulfill your promise of a gas/radiation report to be given us at least 60 days prior to a hearing date.

ACE has clearly identified many serious reasons for concern about radiation in the Pottstown Landfill. Our community needs these answers BEFORE our public hearing, so that concerned citizens might make the most informed comments possible for the public record. It is the responsibility of a protective agency to provide clear and complete answers to the questions we have posed in this letter, PRIOR to our public hearing. We are requesting that DEP give us their answers 60 days prior to our public hearing.

Dr. Lewis Cuthbert
President, ACE

Governor Ridge
Pottstown Mayor Jones
Senator Specter
Pottstown Council
Senator Santorum
Upper Pottsgrove Commissioners
Congressman Holden
Carol Browner, EPA
Congressman Hoeffel
EPA Region III, Director
Senator Gerlach
Joseph Feola, DEP
Representative Dailey
Pottstown Mercury
Representative Hennessey
Philadelphia Inquirer
Representative “Bud” George
Channels 3, 6, 10
Montgomery County Commissioners
Montgomery County Health Department

P.O. Box 3063
Stowe, PA 19464

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