Japan finds radiation contamination of milk, spinach; water in Fukushima contaminated, Tokyo water shows trace

RTR2K3I3.jpgPHOTO: An employee of Yamagata city office holds a Geiger counter to detect radiation when evacuees from the vicinity of Fukushima nuclear plant wish to be screened upon their arrival at an evacuation center set in a gymnasium in Yamagata, northern Japan March 19, 2011, eight days after Japan's devastating earthquake and tsunami. REUTERS/Yuriko Nakao.

Steve Herman at Voice of America reports that Japan's chief government spokesman said today "elevated levels of radiation have been found in milk and spinach near the crippled nuclear power plant in Fukushima prefecture."

While the levels are higher than government safety standards, the tested food does not immediately pose a health risk, according to officials. But this is the first time radiation has been detected in food since the March 11 earthquake and tsunami triggered the nuclear crisis. More at VOA, here.

In that same press conference, government spokesperson Yukio Edano said conditions at the plant's No. 3 reactor unit, which were of greatest concern, have probably become more stable after "firefighters threw some 60 tons of water at a boiling spent fuel pool there shortly after midnight from outside the damaged building housing it."

Separately, Defense Minister Toshimi Kitazawa said surface temperatures at the No. 1 to No. 4 reactors were found in the morning to be "100º C or lower by a Self-Defense Force helicopter," and that their state is more stable than expected. More at Kyodo News.

Related, NHK reports:

Gakushuin University Professor Yasuyuki Muramatsu says it was predicted that high levels of iodine and other radioactive substances would be detected in spinach and other leafy vegetables, as well as grass. He says washing vegetables thoroughly will help to remove the radioactivity to some extent. Muramatsu says consumers should not eat the spinach as the detected levels of radiation are well above the legal limit.

Japanese officials today say radioactive iodine above the government-recommended threshold have been measured in the drinking water in Fukushima prefecture, where the plant is located.

And on the official Twitter stream of the Prime Minister's office today, advice on how to avoid radioactive rain. Yes, that is what I just typed.

It's possible that rain can contain a small amount of radioactive substances when it rains in Tohoku and Kanto regions. Even if you are exposed to rain, it doesn't impose any threat on health. If you are concerned, follow these instructions.

1) Try not to go out unless it is an emergency.
2) Make sure of covering up hair and skin as much as possible
3) In case your clothes or skin is exposed to rain, wash it carefully with running water.

Small traces of new radioactivity have also been measured in tapwater in Tokyo and surrounding areas, but consensus at this time is that the levels do not pose an immediate public health threat.

While the substance was found in Tochigi, Gunma, Niigata, Chiba and Saitama prefectures as well as Tokyo, traces of cesium have also been found in tap water in two of them -- Tochigi and Gunma, the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology said, adding their levels do not affect human health even if they are taken in.

Among them, Tochigi, Gunma and Niigata border Fukushima Prefecture.

In Maebashi, Gunma, 2.5 becquerels of iodine and 0.38 becquerel of cesium were detected Friday per kilogram of water, the prefectural government said, adding it is the first time the substances were found since it began testing tap water for radioactive materials in 1990.

More at Kyodo News.


Update: A New York Times piece on the news of contaminated produce and dairy products in Japan is now live.

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  1. Any amount of ingested radiation is potentially dangerous, even if the effect may not manifest for years or decades. There is no safe dose. Taking reasonable steps to limit exposure to radiation is prudent for all people. Isotopes known to have been distributed from the plant – iodine, strontium, cesium, etc. – bioaccumulate in internal organ and bones.

    People using Tokyo’s water supply should now drink bottled water, if possible.

    It is unclear whether the radiation detected on the spinach was topical or internal. If it is surficial, then washing/brushing might be able to remove some/most of the radioactive particles. If the radiation was taken up by the roots, then it cannot be removed.

    Public authorities, TEPCO and media outlets are downplaying the risks and incorrectly saying that the radiation is harmless or safe. Risks may be low or minimal, but not zero.

    1. Iodine-131 is rapidly absorbed by the thyroid gland and increases the risk of childhood thyroid cancer. Cesium-137 mimics potassium inside the body, seeking out muscle. Strontium-90 acts like calcium, attracted to bone. Plutonium-239 and other isotopes can stay in the body indefinitely, irradiating organs.

      http://www.boingboing.net/2011/03/15/charles-chois-dispat.html

      As far as I can tell here it’s both external and internal, though given it’s only been a week, this may be attempting to give advice with an eye to the long term:

      Gakushuin University Professor Yasuyuki Muramatsu says it was predicted that high levels of iodine and other radioactive substances would be detected in spinach and other leafy vegetables, as well as grass.
      He says washing vegetables thoroughly will help to remove the radioactivity to some extent.

      more

    2. Nonsense.

      This is a really informative BBC Horizon documentary about fatalities following Chernobyl. Absolutely fascinating and very relevant.

  2. To put those numbers into perspective: Southern Germany had to deal with over 100.000 bq of Cs per square meter(*) after Chernobyl. Areas several hundred kilometers away from that reactor received almost a million bq.

    (*)That’s 10.000 bq per square foot. Just in case somebody from Liberia, Myanmar or that third country that’s still using those archaic units is reading this.

  3. “2.5 becquerels of iodine per kilogram of water” is one half of a billionth of a billionth of a kilogram (one femtogram) of I-131 per kilogram of water.
    http://www.wolframalpha.com/input/?i=2.5Bq%2Fkg+%2F+specific+radioactivity+iodine-131

    “0.38 becquerel of cesium per kilogram of water” is one tenth of a millionth of a billionth of a kilogram (0.1 picogram) of Cs-137 per kilogram of water.
    http://www.wolframalpha.com/input/?i=0.38Bq%2Fkg+%2F+specific+radioactivity+caesium-137

  4. Yeah, numbers do provide useful perspective here. WSJ is reporting that the legal limit is 200 bq per liter of dairy product, and 500 bq per kg of other products. The contaminated products were found to be “five times” the legal limit.

    The water in Tokyo was around 2-3 bq per kilogram.

    For reference, bananas have always been on the order of 20 bq each (about 160 bq per kg).

  5. Any amount of ingested radiation is potentially dangerous, even if the effect may not manifest for years or decades. There is no safe dose.

    Rubbish. Bananas are radioactive. There is a safe dose.

    1. Still you do tend to find yourself trying not to get any. I’ve taken to wearing a mask and gloves when I go out and washing my hands when I come back in even though I live in an area well beyond the US 80 km zone.

      Tonight at dinner I found myself asking where the fish we were eating came from.

      1. Tonight at dinner I found myself asking where the fish we were eating came from.

        For what it’s worth, that’s always a good question to ask, radiation or no…

  6. Food and water contamination opens up a whole new psychological ball game, particularly when “officials” have proven themselves untrustworthy.

  7. Carbon Filters will remove Iodine (and Cesium, etc..) from drinking water.

    And you can make your own. Low tech accessible renewable solution.

    1. We should be sure to tell all the homeless and the people in shelters to start making filters immediately – and maybe stop breathing for a while.

      1. fwiw, I would hold my breath before I would wield the moral authority of a group I wasn’t a member of.

  8. In related news, homeopaths report that the radiation now reaching California is so dilute it cures itself.

    1. You win a homeopathic dose of internet. Be careful though – you don’t want to start a new health craze…

  9. a_user, could you have imagined a month ago, that we’d be going to the store and purposely choosing Chinese produce over Japanese, for safety reasons? (I’m not actually at that point yet,.. but the thought of it is giving me the willies.)

  10. Not just in Japan, but radioactive contamination should be measure any where in the world where there are nuclear power plants. US is the countries with most nuclear power plants, there should be some measurement there as well.

  11. My counter shows higher readings of radiation (in Southern Ontario — .3 microSv/hr). Showing readings is useless without knowing the natural background radiation levels.

    Radiation is everywhere. Get used to it.

    1. My counter shows higher readings of radiation (in Southern Ontario — .3 microSv/hr).

      OMG! I’m in Southern Ontario! We’re gonna die!

      1. EVACUATE, THE ONLY SOLUTION IS TO EVACUATE THE ENTIRE PLANET. I CAN NO LONGER SLEEP KNOWING THAT THERE IS THE POSSIBILITY THAT THERE IS A INFINITESIMAL RISK OF MY CANCER RISK GOING UP BY 0.0001%. WE _MUST_ EVACUATE!

  12. In some areas of the UK it is impossible to build a nuclear power plant due to background radiation.

    The plant would exceed radiation limits before it was even built. Strictly speaking you’d have to remove the topsoil as radioactive waste.

    1. Topsoil? You’d have to remove the *bedrock* as radioactive waste, because it’s the granite that’s causing it.

      1. That and radon.

        Radon is the leading cause of cancer in the US, yet no one panics about that. Hell some people are even too cheap to install a fan in their basement, in areas where it is deemed nessecary. People are stupid.

    1. are you saying I made a bon mot or that you think I misread phylace’s media mocking as genuine panic?

      Either way I agree with you.

  13. You can’t compare Bananas with Spinach or Milk.

    The problem is not only the amount of radiation but also the kind. In the case of radioactive iodine, for example, that gets taken up by the thyroid and stays there, posing perhaps the largest health risk from these meltdowns. Bananas don’t have the radioactive isotopes that are causing concern here.

  14. Hasn’t the food industry been trying to convince us that irradiated food is harmless and that we must accept it as a viable process??

    1. Irradiated food is food that has been exposed to radiation, which can kill bacteria in it, allowing the food to last longer. Not food that contains radiation-emitting particles. Those particles are dangerous, and that’s why the guy in the photo has his mouth covered.

  15. I’ve been thinking about how much the world is in a panic over the low doses to date (thank goodness they’re low, knock on wood and pray they stay low) and decided that a blog should be created on the hype and hysteria generated by much of the news today… and what would some of it look like if taken to its logical conclusion.

    First post: http://herbegerenews.wordpress.com/2011/03/20/sunday-20-march-2011/

    World News: In shocking news today the general public discover…

    For a great review on why I would not worry TOO much read this – http://wormme.com/2011/03/20/airborne-contamination-aka-the-plume-aka-fallout/

    I plan on starting some other headlines taking some of the current news taken to its most hyperbolic.

    B

  16. “Small traces of new radioactivity have also been measured in tapwater in Tokyo and surrounding areas, but consensus at this time is that the levels do not pose an immediate public health threat.”

    How much “old” traces of radioactivity are currently in the drinking water of Hiroshima, Nagasaki and lets say Reno, Nevada?

    I’d like to see a map of all the different amounts of “old” radioactive material before I get worried about the “New” stuff.

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