Friday, 21 August 98 Washington, DC
1. RADON: EPA IS PREPARING TO SET SAFE-SHOWERING STANDARDS.
The Environmental Protection Agency will use the 1996 Safe Drinking
Water Act to set a Maximum Contaminant Level (MCL) for radon in
drinking water. It's not really the radon you drink that EPA is
worried about, but the radon you inhale when it comes out in the
shower. Alas, EPA has no Safe Showering Act. The MCL is meant
to reduce the radon contributed to indoor air from water to the
national average for outdoor air. But how much indoor radon is
from water? According to EPA estimates, the cost will be about
$270M per year and prevent 80 cancers. Since the BEIR-VI report
(WN 20 Feb 98)
blames radon for 18,000 lung cancer deaths per
year, that would only be about a 0.4% reduction -- even it were
right. Alas, both estimates are based on a linear-no-threshold
extrapolation from data on uranium miners, which may not even get
the sign right
(WN 30 Jan 98).
In any case, it's not a very cost
effective way to reduce exposure to radon. As an informed source
explained to WN, "EPA thinks it's better to pound on the wrong
nail than not to pound at all." Maybe EPA should ban showers.
2. THE MARS SOCIETY: ORGANIZING TO GET TO THE RED PLANET.
A story in the New York Times this week described the first meeting
of a group pledged to human exploration and colonization of
Mars. The ghost of Princeton physicist Gerard K. O'Neill was at
the conference in Boulder, which was organized by Robert Zubrin,
author of "The Case for Mars." O'Neill, you may recall, wrote
"The High Frontier," in which he proposed huge space colonies be
constructed at the L5 point, for reasons that remain obscure.
The L5 Society was formed to lobby for the idea; its motto was
"L5 by 95." One of O'Neill's disciples in the L5 Society was
Zubrin. Reality is the ISS -- six humans in low-Earth orbit in a
can as Spartan as Alcatraz, at a cost that threatens to bankrupt
the space program. But Zubrin is proposing to do Mars on a
shoestring, "living off the land like Lewis and Clark." He must
have a different Mars in mind than the one visited by Pathfinder.
3. BROOKHAVEN: ANTI-NUCLEAR ACTIVISTS NOW FOCUS ON PLUTONIUM.
First it was a tritium leak at the High Flux Beam Reactor, which
led to termination of DOE's contract with Associated Universities
Inc. to manage the lab
(WN 2 May 97).
The total tritium involved
was less than that contained in a single self-illuminating exit
sign. That was followed by discovery of high levels of strontium
in a drainage tank
(WN 21 Mar 97).
Now, plutonium has been found
in sediments of the Peconic River. Referring to plutonium as
"the deadliest substance on Earth," activists charged on Tuesday
that the plutonium is the direct result of Brookhaven operations.
BNL director John Marburger immediately issued a statement
declaring that the lab "will accept responsibility for levels of
plutonium requiring cleanup." Any decision about cleanup will be
based on the results of a "sound follow-up sampling plan."