Firm Wants To Release More Radioactive Gas

FMC Corp. is asking the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for permission to release more radioactive polonium-210 into the air at its Pocatello-area phosphorus plant.

In a petition, FMC challenges the agency’s calculations about how much of a health risk its emissions pose.

Polonium 210 is a radioactive byproduct of elemental phosphorus production. When phosphate ore is heated in FMC’s furnaces, polonium-210 gas boils off.

FMC contends it could release more of the potentially cancer-causing pollutant without violating federal health standards.

“We are considering the petition. We’re not changing the rule at this point,” EPA spokeswoman Misha Vakoc said.

If EPA headquarters officials decide to raise FMC’s polonium-210 emission limit, the agency would ask what the public thinks of the change, Vakoc said.

FMC contends it has better data on risk calculations than EPA had in 1992 when it set the present limit.

While no decision has been made, EPA health physicist Jerry Leitch said it is a reasonable guess that FMC’s request would effectively double the present 4.5 curies it now is allowed to release.

“We’re not asking for a doubling of the curies, we’re asking for a different regulatory framework that would allow for a higher emission,” FMC spokesman Mike Smith said.

In 1991, EPA required FMC to install $15 million scrubbers on the plant’s stacks. They have reduced other emissions, but have not been very effective with polonium-210.

The chemical can lodge in a person’s lungs, releasing radiation as it decays.

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