For several years, the self styled “watchdog group” the Committee to Minimize Toxic Waste (CMTW) has been proselytizing the City of Berkeley with its view of the dangers of radiation in general and tritium in particular. This cult of true believers teaches that any level of exposure to radiation is dangerous and gives the impression that the Department of Energy (DOE) is the source of all radiation. Faced with the truth that there are many natural sources of radiation, they fall back on an alternative teaching that manmade radiation is much worse than natural radiation, even if they are identical.
Since the CMTW teaches that tritium is the “baddest” of all radioactive substances and that the DOE has endangered the good citizens of Berkeley by locating a scientific laboratory that uses tritium in the hills above the City, I naturally thought that they would be interested in other sources of tritium that exist in the City and might pose a danger to the public. When I presented my findings that there are over 10,000 curies of tritium packaged in small glass tubes spread throughout the City inside EXIT signs, I was denounced as being politically incorrect.
When I showed the leaders of the CMTW photographs of tritium-filled EXIT signs in many public and private buildings, as well as several schools, then the CMTW formulated a new teaching which states that although manmade tritium is generally “bad”, if it is used in an EXIT sign, it becomes “good” tritium. In addition, the CMTW and their supporters have opposed efforts to have the City simply inventory the number of tritium-filled EXIT signs in City!
Finally, the CMTW teaches that various natural disasters could release the tritium stored at Berkeley Lab, which could endanger the public health. To answer this question, Berkeley Lab commissioned a scientific study which concluded that there is no significant health risk. When I pointed out that these same natural disasters would also break or melt the glass tubes in EXIT signs releasing the tritium to expose the citizens living in the flatlands, the CMTW chose to ignore this potential danger.
Let me summarize the two situations. On the one hand, about 10,000 curies of tritium is stored at Berkeley Lab in a special building with many safety controls and under the scrutiny of outside regulators. All air leaving the building is filtered and constantly monitored for tritium. In addition, several safety studies have examining the associated health risks. Furthermore, the DOE, the USEPA and the State of California Department of Health Services regularly review the tritium usage at Berkeley Lab and have certified that the risk to the public is well below health standards.
On the other hand, there is also about 10,000 curies of tritium dispersed throughout the City, in schools, restaurants, movie theaters, Post Offices, bookstores, coffee shops, banks, gymnasiums, meeting rooms, and hotels.
Does the City keep track of the tritium, within its environs?
Does the City know how many signs have been broken or stolen?
Does the City know how the tritium is disposed of after the signs have reached their expiration date?
Has the City reviewed the public health risks associated with these large quantities of tritium dispersed throughout the City?
Is the CMTW concerned about the potential health risks associated with this tritium?
The answer all of the above questions is no!
I believe that James Kemper said it best: “It is easier to believe than to think; It is astounding how much more believing is done than thinking?”
Gordon Wozniak, Ph.D., is senior scientist at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, vice chair of the Nuclear Chemistry and Technology Division, American Chemical Society, and vice chair of the City of Berkeley’s Community Environmental Advisory Commission.