Download the Full Report | Press Release | Statement of Arjun Makhijani, IEER | Statement of Bobbie Paul, Executive Director, Atlanta WAND, and Board member, Georgia Center for Law in the Public Interest | Report summary in Science for Democratic Action (Vol. 12, No. 2)

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Most important findings

  • Water contamination at SRS: Waste disposal practices have led to severe contamination of portions of the surface and groundwater at SRS. This contamination threatens the Savannah River.
  • Pollution of the Savannah River: The Savannah River is contaminated as a result of highly contaminated surface water flowing into it from SRS, though the large flow of the river dilutes the contamination to well within present safe drinking water limits.Tritium, which is a radioactive isotope of hydrogen, is the most common radioactive pollutant.
  • Tritium contamination in Georgia: Rainfall and groundwater in parts of Georgia across the river from the Savannah River Site are contaminated with tritium from SRS. Yet DOE funding to the State of Georgia for environmental monitoring related to SRS is set to expire April 30, 2004.
  • Tritium standards: Tritiated water is far more dangerous to children and developing fetuses than to adults. Recent research indicates that current tritium safe drinking water standards may be inadequate to protect pregnant women and developing fetuses.
  • Subsistence fishing: Many people use the Savannah River for subsistence fishing, especially African-Americans, who consume about four times more fish than the maximum limit set by the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control.
  • Inadequate clean-up plans: The DOE practice of capping shallow dumps and seepage basins is not suited to long-term protection of the water resources of the region.
  • Unsafe and illegal high-level waste management: DOE is leaving large amounts of residual radioactivity from high-level waste in tanks that are being “closed” by pouring grout into them. DOE policy is turning these tanks into a de facto high-level waste dump, and rationalizing it by diluting the waste with grout.

Most Important Recommendations

  • The DOE should urgently develop plans to recover buried wastes and highly contaminated soil, so that the main sources of water pollution over the long term are minimized.
  • The DOE should stop grouting residual radioactivity in high-level waste tanks so as not to leave vast amounts of radioactivity near the Savannah River.
  • DOE should restore and expand environmental monitoring funds to the State of Georgia.
  • Subsistence fishermen should be better informed about the risks of high fish consumption. Recovery of wastes is essential to eliminate this environmental injustice.
  • The U.S. government should provide sufficient funds for a geological investigation that would be thorough enough to conclusively settle the question of whether radioactivity is migrating into Georgia groundwater by pathway(s) under the Savannah River.
  • The National Academy of Sciences panel on the effects of low-level radiation (called the BEIR VII panel) should fully address the non-cancer risks of tritium, and the risks of tritium to pregnant women and developing fetuses.
  • Current standards for tritium contamination of water should be re-examined and tightened so as to protect pregnant women and developing fetuses.
  • More extensive monitoring of Iodine-129 in Savannah River water and fish should be conducted. The health implications of I-129 contamination of the Savannah River should be studied, including its effect on pregnant women, and communicated to the public.