A Brief History of the Community Environmental Monitoring Program

In order to understand how the Community Environmental Monitoring Program (CEMP) came into being, it is helpful to become familiar with some of the history of nuclear research, development, and monitoring in the United States. By 1949, the pace of nuclear weapons research and development had accelerated to the point that the identification of an on-continent testing area was a priority of the U.S. government. Factors of population density, weather, available labor pool, transportation, real estate available to the government, and security were taken into account in the attempt to identify a suitable location. In late 1950, President Truman signed the order establishing the Nevada Proving Grounds (now called the Nevada Test Site [NTS]). The first on-site nuclear test, code-named ABLE, was a one-kiloton device dropped from an Air Force aircraft over Frenchman Flat on January 27, 1951.

The Offsite Radiological Safety Program (ORSP) was established and became the responsibility of the U.S. Public Health Service (PHS)) in 1954 through a Memorandum of Understanding between the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission (the predecessor of the U.S. Department of Energy [DOE]) and the PHS. The major objectives of this program were to directly measure or to collect and analyze representative samples of air, water, foodstuffs, soil, biota, and other environmental media to:

In the 1950's nuclear testing was not conducted year around, but in a series of tests requiring up to several months to complete. PHS officers were brought to Nevada to conduct the surveillance of each series. There were no permanent continuously operating environmental monitoring or sampling networks in operation. In 1959, national radiological health requirements were identified and the Southwestern Radiological Health Laboratory (SWRHL) was established in Las Vegas, Nevada. The SWRHL served as the western U.S. focal point for radiological research and surveillance and provided training programs for all states west of the Mississippi River including Alaska and Hawaii.

A nuclear testing moratorium was in effect for the United States and the Soviet Union from November 1, 1958 until September 1, 1961. The United States resumed testing on September 15, 1961. With the resumption of nuclear testing the NTS went to year around operation, and SWRHL became the PHS base of operations for the ORSP. At this time, PHS initiated the first network of continuously operating air samplers in the offsite areas.

The PH continued the ORSP until 1970 when the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) was created. In December 1970, responsibilities for offsite radiation safety, along with the SWRHL facilities, were transferred from the PHS to the EPA. The SWRHL acquired an expanded mission which included the development of monitoring techniques for a variety of environmental pollutants and to conduct national environmental studies. To reflect its changing missions, SWRHL underwent several name changes until today it is the Environmental Monitoring Systems Laboratory (EMSL-LV). Within EMSL-LV, the Nuclear Radiation Assessment Division (NRD) was created to manage the ORSP.

In March 1979, the accident at the Three-Mile Island (TMI) Nuclear Power Generating Plant near Middletown, Pennsylvania occurred. EMSL-LV was requested to respond to this emergency. Personnel from EMSL-LV traveled to Pennsylvania. They established radiation monitoring and environmental sampling locations in the offsite areas surrounding Three-Mile Island (TMI) and a radioanalytical laboratory in the basement of the Pennsylvania State Health Department in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.

The accident at TMI was a cause for much public concern and fostered a general distrust of the federal government. This distrust was still evident in the summer of 1980 when purging the nuclear reactor containment vessel of radiokrypton was planned. To increase credibility and to develop a method to communicate the status of the radiological conditions of the environment around TMI the Citizenís Monitoring Program (CMP) was instituted. In each of the communities where the monitoring stations would be located, local officials nominated residents as station managers. State and Federal participants selected the managers from the nominees. EPA provided and installed the continuous beta/gamma radiation exposure detector/recorder systems. The station managers were trained by the Pennsylvania State University and the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Resources (DER). The managers independently analyzed the data they collected daily and reported it to their communities and the DER. The DER validated the data and reported it to the news media. The CMP, consisting of monitoring stations operated and managed by local residents was very successful in reassuring the communities that radiation levels were being measured and accurately reported by the federal government. Since the creation of this program, similar independent community monitoring networks such as EFMR and TMI-CMN have been established.

Because of the success of this program, it was proposed that a similar program be instituted in the communities around the NTS, where the United States was conducting its Nuclear Weapons Testing Program. Although the NRD had well-established monitoring stations already in place in these communities, the implementation of a similar community monitoring program would create monitoring stations located in highly visible locations where local residents would be aware of their presence, and have access to the radiological data and the station managers. Thus, 1981 saw the start of the Community Monitoring Program, a cooperative project of the DOE, the Desert Research Institute (DRI), and EPA, consisting of 15 monitoring stations located in the states of California, Nevada, and Utah.

The program has expanded and has gone through several name changes, and today includes 24 monitoring stations in Nevada and Utah under the name Community Environmental Monitoring Program. In 1999, the stations were upgraded to include a full suite of meteorological instrumentation in addition to radiation monitoring sensors, state-of-the-art electronic data collectors, and communications hardware enabling updates to a publicly accessible web page several times daily. The program continues to be sponsored by the DOE and is administered by DRI. For more information on the CEMP, please visit our web page at http://www.cemp.dri.edu/