The Oak Ridge community faces some difficult issues in regards to potential public health impacts from exposure to radiation and contaminants from the Department of Energy facilities -- not to mention the Tennessee Valley Authority and other polluters in the area, as well as historical exposures from the government's nuclear weapons testing program.
Some of the difficulties communities face were discussed by Dr. Timothy Joseph, senior scientist at DOE Oak Ridge Operations, in an article published in Environmental Health (October 1999, p. 22, http://www.bigchalk.com).
In this article, Dr. Joseph raises the very important question, "Can science be properly managed by the federal government in a public arena saturated with conflicting agendas and predetermined ideas about outcomes?"
He discusses the challenge government managers and politicians face in deciding how to respond to public outcry to do something about the environmental and health problems, particularly since "science and politics may have different destinations. Science wants to prove that a correlation does or does not exist. Politics wants to solve the problem. . .
Which leads us to a discussion of the never-ending-study syndrome we seem to have in Oak Ridge, which has been a concern expressed by community stakeholders because of the millions of dollars spent studying Oak Ridge without ever reaching a final conclusion or closure.
According to Dr. Joseph, "Often, a lengthy and expensive project will conclude that further study is needed ...
"When science is unable to prove a correlation, it can only conclude that a correlation could exist."
However, he points out "that same conclusion often can be drawn before the study is begun, and the need should be addressed at that time."
He states that "a concern can be addressed and studied for years with millions of dollars but never solved. Concerns can, however, be answered.
"The answer may be that a multimillion dollar study will likely provide a definitive cause and effect, and that the study, though expensive, has value.
"Or, the answer may be that the use of this tool will only bring us a little closer to understanding the complexity of the problem because the tool simply can't yield conclusive results either way. Thus, the benefit does not justify the cost of this particular study.
ORNL and DOE well know the real cause and effect of health problems in Oak Ridge and find it cheeper to keep doing endless studies and claim they don't know.