Brian Cotter MP (LibDem)
8a Alexandra Parade
BS23 1 QT
Thursday, April 21, 2005
Many thanks for your letter covering Lord Warner’s letter about radioactive waste dated 15th April.
My concern remains that the Government’s plans to recycle radioactive materials into the general manufacturing stream will result in some alpha emitters being recycled into cooking utensils, and that metal particles containing alpha emitters will be scraped off into the food, ingested, taken up in the lymph system, and there cause neoplastic lesions (“cancers” or leukaemias).
Lord Warner puts forward as reassurance Regulation (EC) 1935/2004 which prohibits materials being used in food manufacture that do not have the potential of transferring constituents to food that could endanger human health. This is a wise qualitative prohibition, but the only quantitative protection is provided by the Environment Agency (EA), which allows a radioactive materials emitting under 4 Bequerels per gramme to be recycled into cooking utensils by default. The EA may indeed decide to authorise materials with radioactivity above that level to be recycled into cooking utensils.
My objection is that no account is taken of the radiobiological difference between alpha emitters and other forms of radioactivity. Crude, generic assays in terms of Bq/g are of little relevance. A particle of alpha emitter buried in an aluminium cooking vessel might contribute little or nothing to a standard radiological assay of the material, because, being buried under the surface, it would not be detected, but in practice might be scraped off into the food, and lead to some unfortunate diner's death by the mechanism set out above. As a post script, let me say that it would be an epidemiological operation of extraordinary complexity and depth to trace some future increase of lymphosarcomas or lymphoid leukaemias back to the recycling of radioactive materials into cooking vessels. It is easier to squeeze the toothpaste out of the tube than to get it all back in.
If the current legislation were to be amended to prohibit the recycling of alpha emitters into cooking utensils, this would help to a degree, but it would be a practical impossibility to stop the secondary recycling, that is, radioactive materials being formed first into, say, furniture, and then later recycled into cooking utensils.
Therefore I would be grateful if you would kindly ask the Under Secretary of State for Public Health whether the Government intends to stop recycled radioactive waste containing alpha emitters from finding its way into cooking utensils, and if so, how the Government intends to succeed in this aim?