The Navy Uncovered Strontium — 90…and they want you to think it’s okay. It’s not!
It is a rare moment indeed at the Hunters Point Shipyard when the U.S. Navy publicly admits it has uncovered a dangerous bone seeking radionuclide with a half life of 28.9 years in concentrations exceeding those set to protect human life and safety at a federal Superfund site.
Strontium 90 is formed by nuclear explosions and is considered to be the most dangerous component of nuclear fallout by the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry. High levels of radioactive strontium damage bone marrow, cause anemia and blood clotting disorders.
Navy chemists detected Strontium — 90 in samples obtained on a shipyard parcel in concentrations above the remediation goal set for public safety. When they reanalyzed two of the samples…Voila…the high Strontium — 90 concentrations magically went away!
That would be the end of the story except that guided by EPA and regulatory input, the Navy has decided to “refine” its methods of Strontium — 90 detection by increasing the size of the soil sample to 2.5 grams and extend the laboratory analysis by seven days. The Navy will reanalyze all samples using this updated method according to a Fact Sheet released to the public on October 21, 2021.
The Department of the Navy is a military organization…not a public health organization. The mission of the Navy is to “maintain, train and equip combat-ready naval forces capable of winning wars, deterring aggression and maintaining freedom of the seas.”
The Navy Fact sheet concludes by asking if you should be concerned about Strontium — 90 at the shipyard:
“No. Strontium — 90 lab results to date have not indicated levels considered a risk to human health or the environment.” Strontium — 90 Laboratory Procedures Frequently Asked Questions
Now that is one helluva oxymoronic statement! There is no safe level of radiation. That is the simple conclusion of the Committee on the Biological Effects of Ionizing Radiation in its research on the effects on populations of exposure to low levels of ionizing radiation, health effects and health risks from exposure to low levels of ionizing radiation from 1980 to 2006. [https://www.euronuclear.org/glossary/beir/]
Finding Strontium -90 in concentrations exceeding remediation goals in 10% of samples is conclusive evidence of risk to human health. If this were not the case the Navy would not be reanalyzing all of the samples collected in the region of concern.
“The 2006 National Academy of Sciences Biological Effects of Ionizing Radiation (BEIR) VII report concluded the existing scientific evidence is consistent with the linear no-threshold model of radiation-induced cancers. According to LNT, every fraction of ionizing radiation, no matter how small, constitutes an increased cancer risk (linear with the dose). The LNT model is the basis for current radiation regulation. “ Health Impacts of Low Dose Ionizing Radiation: Current Scientific Debate and Regulatory Issues [https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6149023]
Strontium — 90 is a bone seeker. It is chemically similar to calcium and when inhaled your body deposits it in your bones where it emits damaging beta radiation particles to your bone marrow. Beta radiation is emitted within a short range making it most harmful if inhaled or swallowed and may lead to bone cancer or leukemia. A Toxicological profile for Strontium — 90 was developed by ATSDR that examined biomarkers of exposure and effect and methods for reducing toxic effects.
Strontium 85 emits gamma rays. It has been abandoned from use to detect bone uptake in radiographic imaging. Radioactive strontium can be absorbed into the bones of small children. Large doses replace calcium in bone and lead to renal failure, bone deformity and tumors.
“The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) identifies the most serious hazardous waste sites in the nation. These sites make up the National Priorities List (NPL) — sites targeted for long-term federal cleanup activities. Strontium and strontium — 90 have been found in at least 102 of the 1,636 current NPL sites.” [https://www.atsdr.cdc.gov/toxprofiles/tp159.pdf]
According to EPA Facts About Strontium — 90, the most common isotope of strontium is Strontium — 90. Radioactive Strontium — 90 is produced when uranium and plutonium undergo fission. Fission is the process whereby the nucleus of a radionuclide breaks down into smaller parts. Large amounts of radioactive strontium were produced during nuclear weapons testing.
The half life is the time required for a radioactive substance to lose 50 percent of its radioactivity by decay. Strontium is not stable and the release of radiation caused by its decay is a concern because beta particles can pass through skin. Of greater concern is the ability of strontium to become part of the food chain particularly in calcium containing dairy products like milk and cheese. EPA has made recommendations to protect human health at Superfund sites in the fact sheet “Primer on Radionuclides Commonly Found at Superfund Sites.” EPA has established a Maximum Contaminant Level (MCL) of 4 millirems per year for beta particles from man-made radionuclides. [https://semspub.epa.gov/work/HQ/176328.pdf]