Friday, April 1, 2011

Fukushima food and water fallout: should you be concerned? by Jerry Brainum

The full extent of the Fukushima nuclear plant meltdown has yet to be established, since it appears that the Japanese government is downplaying the damage.But the aftermath of the meltdown is already becoming apparent as news of food and water contamination begins to emerge.One such concern involves the deposition of iodine-131, a  radioactive material, in milk. While levels of iodine 131 in the air are diluted, and the stuff itself has a half-life of only eight days, referring to the amount of time it takes to break down the original amount, it can get deposited on grass. Cows then eat the contaminated grass, concentrating iodine-131 by a factor of 1,000 in the milk they produce.
    Reports from Japan indicate that eleven types of vegetables have been found to be radioactive and deemed unfit for consumption. Citizens in Tokyo have been warned not to drink the water since levels of radioactivity are above normal. This is a concern mainly for children in the city.We've been hearing various reports of how the levels of radiation thus far released from the nuclear plant are not high enough to cause major concern. Yet, a 2006 report issued by the National Academy of Science concluded that even low levels of radiation exposure could cause various human diseases, including cancer, heart disease, and immune disorders.
     Radiation causes these problems by damaging DNA, required for normal cellular repair and reproduction. When this happens, cell death or mutations that lead to cancer onset can occur. Radioactive materials that enter the body continue to radiate until they are excreted or naturally decay, which can take a lifetime. In relation to the Japanese problem, two primary radioactive materials have been released, iodine-131 and cesium. Some suggest that other dangerous materials have also been released, including strontium and plutonium. Strontium is linked to bone cancer onset, and has a half-life of 29 years.Plutonium gained notoriety when it was revealed that a former Soviet agent was poisoned to death after drinking a cup of plutonium-laced tea. Plutonium has a half-life of 24,000 years, and has been detected in the soil around the Japanese nuclear plant. Water inside one of the nuclear plants showed radiation levels 100,000-times above normal. Thus far, the Japan accident has released more radioactive material than the Three Mile Island accident in 1979, which was the worst nuclear accident in U.S history. The Japan nuclear accident has also released about ten percent of the radiation released by the worst nuclear meltdown in history, the Chernobyl meltdown in 1986.
        The aftereffects of the Chernobyl meltdown are still being felt today, and only time will tell if similar effects result from the current Japanese meltdown. Another concern is how this will affect the United States.Already radioactive emissions from Japan have been detected at low levels from California to Colorado, even as far east as Massachusetts.Monitors in North and South Carolina have detected the presence of iodine-131 for the first time since the Chernobyl incident.According to the U.S government, the levels of radiation from Japan that have arrived on American soil are insignificant. But monitoring systems operated by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) have not been fully functional. Indeed, in California, four out of eleven air monitors weren't working after the Fukushima incident. But those air samples that have been monitored have thus far been normal, with slightly higher levels in Hawaii.The EPA has also received reports of elevated levels of radiation in rainwater in Massachusetts and Pennsylvania.The level of Iodine-131 in the rain samples exceeded EPA standards for safe drinking water, which was played down by the agency. Just yesterday, testing revealed the presence of iodine-131  in milk samples from California and Washington.
      Food imports could also pose problems. The U.S imports 80% of its seafood and also a large amount of fruits and vegetables. The FDA only inspects about 2 percent of these imports.The FDA has placed a ban on some food imports from Japan that are in proximity to the site of the nuclear accident. But thus far, the FDA has not banned seafood imports from Japan. Trace amounts of cesium have begun to appear in anchovies caught in Japanese waters.Since the FDA is short-handed and cannot test all the food that emanates from Japan, I would be careful about avoiding these foods, at least for now, and until we are able to get a more concise picture of the extent: of any significant radioactive contamination of food and water sources from Japan.

©,2013 Jerry Brainum. Any reprinting in any type of media, including electronic and foreign is expressly prohibited. 

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