Return of the Radiation Bills

By Loretta Macktal, Executive Assistant to the Vice President, Government Relations

Capitol Update, April 4, 2003

On Monday April 7, the Senate Environmental Quality Committee will hear three bills that attempt to rekindle a legislative debate that, for all intensive purposes, was resolved last year by Executive Order.

SB 13 (Gloria Romero, D-Los Angeles) would effectively ban in-state disposal of any waste exhibiting residual radioactivity. SB 201 (Romero) is a further reflection of the author's distrust of the state Department of Health Services (DHS) radiologic branch. This bill would affect a wholesale transfer of statutory authority for radioactive materials management from DHS to the Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC). SB 208 (Sheila Kuehl, D-Santa Monica) would establish statutory cleanup standards for a single site - Rocketdyne's Santa Susanna Field Laboratory in Ventura County - based on a past incident at the property, rather than an objective evaluation of potential health risk. All of these bills ignore action taken last September by Governor Gray Davis in Executive Order 62-02 to address concerns about the adequacy of existing radiation cleanup standards and the disposal of waste from formerly licensed properties.

In recognition of concerns raised last year about "radioactive" waste being disposed in municipal landfills, Executive Order 62-02 directs the regional water boards to immediately impose a moratorium on disposal of material derived from the cleanup of licensed facilities at municipal landfills. This moratorium is to remain in force until DHS adopts a new "decommissioning" regulation (i.e., new cleanup standards). The Executive Order further requires that DHS conduct an environmental impact report pursuant to the California Environmental Quality Act examining environmental and human health risks associated with the disposal of material from decommissioned sites. DHS recently announced a memorandum of understanding with DTSC to work cooperatively on developing this regulation.

In his veto message on SB 1970 (Romero's 2002 disposal ban bill), the Governor cited a lack of scientific consensus concerning alleged health risks and the potential for adverse impacts on biomedical research and medical treatments. These and other concerns raised by the proponents of the radiation bills will be thoroughly examined through the robust regulatory process required by the Executive Order. This process should result in scientifically based standards that are protective of public health and the environment both at decommissioned sites and at the point of disposal. This process will also address legal deficiencies in the existing decommissioning regulation that prompted the Sacramento Superior Court to suspend the regulation.

At a minimum, further legislation should be suspended pending the outcome of the DHS/DTSC regulatory process.
Read more Environmental Impacts articles

Capitol updates archive 989898989