Currently there is no requirement for government and industrial facilities to make data available about the types and amounts of materials they release to the environment. When these materials cross facility boundaries and the potential exists for public exposure, this information should be available to the public on a timely basis. But providing only data is not enough. Facilities should help the public understand what the data mean in terms of human health risk and whether concentrations being measured exceed standards. This issue was recently highlighted with the recognition that there are schools around the country, where children are unknowingly being exposed to levels of potentially harmful materials release by nearby facilities.
A model for this process now exists at www.racernm.com for the Los Alamos National Laboratory. RACER is Risk Analysis, Communication, and Reduction. The web site is managed by an independent entity, the New Mexico Community Foundation to enhance credibility and trust. The site contains over 6 million records and through the web, allows the public to see where contamination exists and how measurements in the environment compare to regulations or other standards.
RACER has been of immense importance in opening up a government facility with a history of secrecy because of its mission. It is significantly changing the public's perception and understanding of Los Alamos National Laboratory. RACER has also helped the New Mexico Environment Department, regulator of Los Alamos, do its job more efficiently and effectively.
This concept of transparency, availability and understandability should be the standard applied to any facility releasing chemicals or radioactive materials to the environment that may pose a risk to the public or the environment.