EPA Publishes Final Revision to PAG Manual

As part of its mission to protect human health and the environment, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) publishes Protective Action Guides (PAGs) to help federal, state, local and tribal emergency response officials make radiation protection decisions during emergencies.  On December 8, 2016, the EPA—in coordination with a multi-agency working group within the Federal Radiological Preparedness Coordinating Committee (FRPCC)—published final updates to the 1992 Manual of Protective Action Guides and Protective Actions for Nuclear Incidents (1992 PAG Manual).

The updated guidance in the revised PAG Manual: Protective Action Guides and Planning Guidance for Radiological Incidents (PAG Manual) applies the PAGs to incidents other than nuclear power plant accidents, updates the radiation dosimetry and dose calculations based on current science and incorporates late phase guidance.  The final revisions incorporate input from public comments received in 2013 and include clarifications based on those comments.

EPA plans to finalize drinking water guidance after incorporating public comments on a proposal published in June 2016.  The intention is to add it as a section in the Intermediate Phase chapter of the PAG Manual and reissue the PAG Manual once complete.

A notice regarding release of the final revision of the PAG Manual was published at 81 Federal Register 88,679 (December 8, 2016).  The final revision of the PAG Manual is available at www.regulations.gov under Docket ID No. EPA–HQ–OAR– 2008–0268.  The PAG Manual in electronic form, as well as related guidelines and additional information, can also be found on the PAGs Web page at http://www.epa.gov/ radiation/protective-action-guides-pags.


The PAG Manual provides federal, state and local emergency management officials with guidance for responding to radiological emergencies.  A PAG is the projected dose to an individual from a release of radioactive material at which a specific protective action to reduce or avoid that dose is recommended.  Emergency management officials use PAGs for making decisions regarding actions to protect the public from exposure to radiation during an emergency.  Such actions include, but are not limited to, evacuation, shelter-in-place, temporary relocation, and food restrictions.

Development of the PAGs was based on the following essential principles, which also apply to the selection of any protective action during an incident:

  •   prevent acute effects;
  •   balance protection with other important factors and ensure that actions result in more benefit than harm; and,
  •   reduce risk of chronic effects.

The PAG Manual is not a legally binding regulation or standard and does not supersede any environmental laws.  The guidance does not address or impact site cleanups occurring under other statutory authorities such as the EPA’s Superfund program, the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s (NRC’s) decommissioning program, or other federal or state cleanup programs.  As indicated by the use of non-mandatory language such as “may,” “should” and “can,” the PAG Manual only provides recommendations and does not confer any legal rights or impose any legally binding requirements upon any member of the public, states or any federal agency.  Rather, the PAG Manual recommends projected radiation doses at which specific actions may be warranted in order to reduce or avoid that dose.  The PAG Manual is designed to provide flexibility to be more or less restrictive as deemed appropriate by decision makers based on the unique characteristics of the incident and the local situation.


The EPA encourages emergency management and radiation protection organizations that use the PAGs in their emergency plans to incorporate the updated guidance as soon as possible.  According to EPA, this may entail training, as well as updating plans and procedures.  The EPA, the FRMAC and interagency partners on the PAG Subcommittee will conduct outreach and technical training.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) expects certain organizations associated with nuclear power plant operations to use the PAG Manual in developing their emergency management plans.  In addition, the FEMA plans to begin using the new PAG Manual during their evaluation of offsite response organizations around nuclear power facilities twelve months after the publication of the Federal Register notice.


The historical and legal basis of the EPA’s role in the PAG Manual begins with Reorganization Plan No. 3 of 1970, in which the Administrator of the EPA assumed functions of the Federal Radiation Council (FRC), including the charge to “ . . . advise the President with respect to radiation matters, directly or indirectly affecting health, including guidance for all federal agencies in the formulation of radiation standards and in the establishment and execution of programs of cooperation with states.”  Recognizing this role, FEMA directed the EPA in their Radiological Emergency Planning and Preparedness Regulations to “establish Protective Action Guides (PAGs) for all aspects of radiological emergency planning in coordination with appropriate federal agencies.”  FEMA also tasked the EPA with preparing “guidance for state and local governments on implementing PAGs, including recommendations on protective actions which can be taken to mitigate the potential radiation dose to the population.”  All of this information was to “be presented in the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) ‘Manual of Protective Action Guides and Protective Actions for Nuclear Incidents.’”

Additionally, section 2021(h) charged the Administrator with performing “such other functions as the President may assign to him [or her] by Executive order.”  Executive Order 12656 states that the Administrator shall “[d]evelop, for national security emergencies, guidance on acceptable emergency levels of nuclear radiation . . .”  The EPA’s role in PAGs development was reaffirmed by the National Response Framework, Nuclear/Radiological Incident Annex of June 2008.

For additional information and related guidelines, see the PAGs Web page at http://www.epa.gov/radiation/ protective-action-guides-pags.

For additional information, please contact Sara DeCair of the Radiation Protection Division in the Center for Radiological Emergency Management at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency at (202) 343–9108 or at decair.sara@epa.gov.