Shumlin, Health Commissioner Differ On Fish Threat

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(Host) Governor Peter Shumlin and the state health commissioner offered differing views on Wednesday about eating fish caught near the Vermont Yankee nuclear plant.

The governor’s comments came as the state launched an aggressive monitoring and testing program to pinpoint the source of radioactive material found in fish in the Connecticut River.

VPR’s John Dillon has more:

(Dillon) The Health Department has found trace amounts of Strontium 90 in fish in the Connecticut River. It has not identified the Vermont Yankee nuclear plant as the source. And the department says the fish are safe.

But Governor Shumlin says he wouldn’t fish near the plant, nor would he eat the catch.

(Shumlin) "If you asked me, ‘Would I go fishing down next to the Vermont Yankee plant and eat the fish?’ I got to tell you – just from instinct, not science – I wouldn’t. I was born and raised in that county. I love fishing in that county. I know that there is water leaking into that river that has nuclear isotopes in it. I probably wouldn’t choose to do my fishing right there."

(Dillon) Shumlin made his comments with Health Commissioner Doctor Harry Chen standing at his side. The governor said the commissioner would probably disagree, and he was right.

(Chen) "I personally would eat the fish, so we differ on that."

(Dillon) Chen said Strontium 90 is a manmade isotope, primarily created in nuclear plants and from atomic weapons testing.

(Chen) "It’s everywhere. So it’s background radiation. I can absolutely assure you we all have some of it in our bones – everyone in this room. So it’s not like anything particularly new…. The levels are barely detectible. They certainly are not anywhere near the levels of concern in terms of health. But the mere fact they are there is certainly of concern to me as health commissioner. And to make sure nothing changes with that, to try to ascertain the source of the strontium if possible."

(Dillon) Strontium 90 is a concern because it’s a relatively long-lasting isotope that persists in the environment. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, it’s chemically similar to calcium and thus some of it migrates to the bones when it’s ingested. It’s been linked to bone cancer and leukemia.

Entergy Vermont Yankee has leaked radioactive tritium at the site, but strontium has not been found in the groundwater.

Shumlin wants Entergy to install new extraction wells to pump the contaminated water out of the ground. But the governor seemed to back off from his suggestion earlier in the week that Yankee was the source of the strontium in the fish.

(Shumlin) "So one of the possibilities is that there is a direct correlation between the fish and the leak. We don’t know that. But what we do know is that Entergy Louisiana has not invested the dollars, in my judgment, that they should have in removing the contaminated water that’s sitting under the plant that now leaked almost two years ago."

(Dillon) The Health Department has begun an aggressive monitoring and testing campaign to identify the source of the strontium in the Connecticut River fish.

Commissioner Chen said the department will sample fish found in other water bodies in order to develop a valid comparison.

For VPR News, I’m John Dillon in Montpelier

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