The Environmental Protection Agency's Science Advisory Board has announced it will thoroughly review the EPA's controversial study of the cancer risk from radioactive phosphate slag in southeastern Idaho.
Sen. Steve Symms, R-Idaho, said Friday in Washington, D.C., that the decision was "good news for the people of Pocatello and Soda Springs, and good news for sound science."The Idaho Radionuclide Study released last spring found that long-term exposure to the gravel-like byproduct of phosphate processing poses an elevated cancer risk for residents of the two cities.
Mark Masarik, hazardous waste section chief in the EPA's Boise office, said the Science Advisory Board - an independent body of scientists that advises the agency - reviewed the methodology and procedures used in the study conducted by the EPA's Office of Radiation Programs in Las Vegas, Nev.
Masarik said the panel rarely reviews final reports. "But given the controversy that has resulted from the study in southeast Idaho, and given the fact that local elected officials, state officials and congressional officials all have called for a review, we felt we needed it for an independent blessing of the results."
Symms led criticism both of the study's results and the method the EPA used to get the word out to the public. In August, he brought the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee to Soda Springs to hear testimony on the issue.
Now that the Science Advisory Board has agreed to review the findings, Symms said he also was pleased the EPA had decided to get comments from local officials on the type of questions that should be addressed.
"To be credible, this review needs to involve those people affected by their (EPA's) actions," Symms said. "I would hope they will work with the mayors, county commissioners, local health officials and the Idaho Legislature in determining the scope of the review."
Masarik said the study found that at the maximum, 70 years of exposure to phosphate slag would be responsible for four cases of cancer per 1,000 people in Pocatello and six cases per 1,000 residents of Soda Springs.
Crushed slag has been used extensively for years in road and sidewalk construction and for railroad ballast in southeastern Idaho. Since issuance of the EPA study, the state Transportation Department and both Pocatello and Soda Springs have placed a moratorium on the use of slag. Masarik said phosphate processors also have stopped selling the byproduct.
He said a six- to 10-member radiation subcommittee of the Science Advisory Board is expected to conduct the peer review of the study, which probably will not be completed until after the end of the year.