Traces of Japanese radiation detected in
13 US states
Elevated yet still very low levels of
radiation from the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear crisis have now
been detected in the air or water in more than a dozen US
states and three territories, federal and local authorities
Higher than usual levels of radiation were detected by 12
monitoring stations in Alaska, Alabama, California, Guam,
Hawaii, Idaho, Nevada, Saipan, Northern Mariana Islands, and
Washington State over the past week and sent to
Environmental Protection Agency scientists for detailed
laboratory analysis, the agency said in a release Monday.
Unusual, yet still very low “trace amounts” of radiation,
were also reported in Massachusetts rain water and by state
officials and nuclear power plant radiation sensors in
Colorado, South Carolina, North Carolina, Florida, and
Pennsylvania, the Associated Press and Reuters reported.
“Some of the filter results show levels slightly higher
than those found by EPA monitors last week and a Department
of Energy monitor the week before,” the EPA said in its
statement Monday. “These types of findings are to be
expected in the coming days and are still far below levels
of public health concern.”
While radiation levels now being seen in some rainwater
exceed permitted levels for drinking water, for instance,
the federal standard is calculated based on long-term
exposure over 70 years – and those levels are expected to
last only a relatively short while, the EPA said in a
“frequently asked questions” portion of its statement.
One key radioactive particle being detected is iodine
131, a product of nuclear fission. Trace amounts of I-131
were trapped in clouds, and recent rains deposited I-131 in
collection containers, the Massachusetts Department of
Public Health reported Monday.
Rainwater called safe
For anyone who uses rainwater as a drinking water source,
radiation exposure could be higher than for someone drinking
from a public water system, though that level is still far
to low to cause a health risk, the Centers for Disease
Control said as part of a joint statement with the EPA and
Food and Drug Administration.
“The levels being seen now are 25 times below the level
that would be of concern for use as a sole source of water
over a short period of time,” the CDC said in the joint
statement, “even for infants, pregnant women or
breastfeeding women, who are the most sensitive to
Reporting of radiation levels comes from the EPA's
network of radiation sensors in its RadNet system, which
includes more than 100 real-time radiation air monitors in
48 states as well as 40 units it can deploy anywhere in the
“As a result of the incident with the Fukushima nuclear
plant in Japan, several EPA air monitors have detected very
low levels of radioactive material in the United States
consistent with estimates from the damaged nuclear
reactors,” the EPA said in its statement.
But even though short-term hikes “do
not raise public health concerns” and such levels in
rainwater are expected to be relatively short, the EPA said
it would increase the monitoring of precipitation, drinking
water, and other “potential exposure routes.”
One key area being watched is the US milk supply. After
the Chernobyl meltdown in 1986, it was found that cows had
eaten grass tainted by radioactive fallout from the reactor.
Concentrated radioiodine in the milk was blamed later for
causing health problems in humans who drank it. The Soviet
government was blamed for not warning the public.
Similarly, the US government was blamed for downplaying
radioactive fallout as a health threat during atmospheric
weapons testing in the 1950s and early 1960s. Such
experience has translated into a high level of public
distrust in many nations, experts say.
“As far as I can tell, the fallout today appears to be
orders of magnitude less than it was during weapon testing
in the 1950s when weapons-testing fallout occurred all over
the country,” says Arjun Makhijani, president of Institute
for Energy and Environmental Research in Takoma Park, Md.,
who has testified to Congress on the nuclear fallout issue.
“Still, I would say there is a level of public concern
that's high enough right now that the authorities absolutely
should be measuring [radiation] levels in milk.”
In a statement Monday, the EPA and Massachusetts
authorities said they were monitoring the milk supply at
more than 30 stations. Typically this was done only once
every three months, but sampling and evaluations were now
being done “immediately,” the agency said.
The Food and Drug Administration added in a joint
statement with EPA and other agencies that it was unlikely
that radiation levels would contaminate milk to any degree
that would harm health.
“At this time, theoretical models do not indicate that
harmful amounts of radiation will reach the US and,
therefore, there is little possibility of domestic milk
being contaminated as a result of grass or feed
contamination in the US,” the FDA said.
“As part of ongoing federal safety requirements, there is
regular testing of milk and other selected foods for
radioactivity and other potential contaminants,” added the
Massachusetts Department of Health in the same release. “In
initial testing, US EPA found no I-131 in milk products in
the US.... This monitoring by the federal officials will
continue in Massachusetts and other states.”.