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COP Warns Public of Radioactive Waste Dangers in Sewage Plants

Los Angeles Times

Citing evidence of contamination in 14 municipal sewer systems around the country over the past decade, the U.S. Government Accounting Office warned Tuesday of the danger of radioactive waste in the sludge and ash formed at sewage treatment facilities and often recycled into fertilizer and compost.

In a report released to Congress, the GAO does not speak of an imminent threat to public health. But it does raise concerns for people who work with material that is subject to contamination and contends that the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, the agency that oversees the handling of radioactive materials, has not been monitoring the amount of radioactivity collecting at sewage treatment plants.

NRC officials acknowledged to U.S. Senate committee Tuesday that radioactive materials was found in sewage sludge, but that amounts of radioactivity "were below levels that would cause concern for public health and safety.'' Still, they said, enough contamination existed to require clean-ups in some cases.

Legally discharged by hospitals, laboratories and a variety of manufacturing companies, limited quantities of radioactive waste matter regularly are flushed into the nation's sewer systems where dilution is supposed to render the material harmless.

However, the GAO report points to several cases where, instead of dispersing, the radioactive materials re-concentrated in the sludge and ash that is filtered out of the waste water passing through treatment plants.