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Environment

Learning from radiation regulation

June 13, 2016 | APPEARED IN VOLUME 94, ISSUE 24

I ’m a former state radiation regulator, health physicist, and radiochemist as well as a 50-year member of the American Chemical Society and a member of the Health Physics Society. In light of recent findings of lead contamination in public venues (C&EN, Feb. 15, page 26), I believe it’s time that the philosophy for regulating chemicals mirror the philosophy used by radiation regulations to keep doses “as low as reasonably achievable” (ALARA).

This two-part philosophy means first that users of radioactive material and radiation-producing machines must not only meet specific disposal limits, but they must also seek out the best available technology and engineering and use best practices to keep radiation doses and emissions as far below the stated regulatory limits in Title 10 of the Code of Federal Regulations and equivalent state regulations as achievable.

The second part of the ALARA philosophy requires surveys—in the broad definition of the word—that keep track of emissions using the best technology and engineering practices. Consider the recent events in Portland, Ore., involving heavy-metal emissions from art glass manufacturing, lead dust in homes, and lead in public school drinking water as well as in Flint, Mich., involving lead in public drinking water. If regulators had practiced the broad ALARA philosophy used in radiation regulations, these unfortunate events might not have occurred. I believe it’s time that ACS stepped in to lobby Congress to adopt the ALARA philosophy “across the board” for all toxics, not just for radiation hazards.

Martha Dibblee
Portland, Ore.

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