Fukushima’s Organic Produce Hot, Hotter?

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Source.

Local produce, such as milk and spinach, are beginning to show potentially alarming signs of radiation up to 90 miles away from the damaged Fukushima nuclear power plants, according to Japanese officials. Will this be temporary or of long range concern?

According to an article in The New York Times:

TOKYO — The government said Saturday that it had found higher than normal levels of radioactive materials in spinach and milk at farms up to 90 miles away from the ravaged nuclear power plants, the first confirmation by officials that the unfolding nuclear crisis has affected the nation’s food supply.


An important note:

The newly discovered radioactivity contained in the average amount of spinach and milk consumed in an entire year would be equal to the amount received in a single CAT scan, he said.

“These levels do not pose an immediate threat to your health,” Mr. Edano said, adding that the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry would provide additional details. “Please stay calm.”

Further:

Food safety inspectors said the amount of iodine-131 found in the tested milk was five times higher than levels deemed safe. They said the iodine found in the spinach was more than seven times higher. The spinach also contained slightly higher amounts of cesium-137.

Iodine-131 and cesium-137 are two of the more dangerous elements that are feared to have been released from the plants in Fukushima. Iodine-131 can be dangerous to human health, especially if absorbed through milk and milk products, because it can accumulate in the thyroid and cause cancer. Cesium-137 can damage cells and lead to an increased risk of cancer.

Those levels are well beyond what the Food and Drug Administration in the United States considers a cause for concern. But experts say Japan’s reassurances about food safety were probably accurate.

Dr. Swartz said people consuming milk and produce, particularly children and pregnant women, should be taking potassium iodide, which saturates the thyroid gland with nonradioactive iodine, and prevents it from taking in the radioactive form. Children and fetuses have the highest risk of thyroid cancer from exposure to radioactive iodine.

The Japanese authorities recommended Wednesday that people in the affected area start taking iodine.

According to the EPA:

What are the properties of cesium-137?

Cesium, as well as cesium-137, is a soft, malleable, silvery white metal. Cesium is one of only three metals that is a liquid near room temperature (83 °F). The half-life of cesium-137 is 30 years. It decays by emission of a beta particle and gamma rays to barium-137m.

What are the properties of iodine-129 and iodine-131?

Radioactive iodines have the same physical properties as stable iodine. However, radioactive iodines decay with time
Iodine is a nonmetallic, purplish-black crystalline solid. It has the unusual property of ‘sublimation,’ which means that it can go directly from a solid to a gas, without first becoming liquid. It sublimes to a deep violet vapor at room temperature. This vapor is irritating to the eyes, nose and throat. Iodine dissolves in alcohol and in water. It melts at 236 °F.

Iodine reacts easily with other chemicals, and isotopes of iodine are found as compounds rather than as a pure elemental nuclide. Thus, iodine-129 and -131 found in nuclear facilities and waste treatment plants quickly form compounds with the mixture of chemicals present. However, iodine released to the environment from nuclear power plants is usually a gas.

Iodine-129 has a half-life of 15.7 million years; iodine-131 has a half-life of about 8 days. Both emit beta particles upon radioactive decay.

Let us hope that this early detection of radiation levels in local produce will minimize risk to public health, and that levels will return to safe levels very soon.

Comments

  1. #1 Greg Laden
    March 19, 2011

    We don’t eat cat scans, of course.

    The most important risk at Chernobyl (and the comparison is valid because we are talking about radioactive dust on crops) was apparently from iodine on food ingested by children. There is still a high rate of thyroid cancer in the affected area. In certain areas, over one third of the children who were under 3 or 4 years of age were expected to develop thyroid cancer, and thousands ended up dying from it (can’t remember the number).

    Here, around Fukushima, the area is smaller and the amount of radiation so far much less.

    This should be fairly easy and straight forward to monitor, measure, and to put aside crops in those areas until levels have reduced via decay and erosion. (for once, soil erosion is a good thing for agriculture!)

    What I’m interested in and have not seen anything about yet is what will happen, if anything, in marine environments adjoining the area.

  2. #2 adela
    March 19, 2011

    It would help to have the actual numbers, parts per whatever. A good heavy rain washes a lot away. Tobacco soaks up radiation like a sponge so just do an expendable crop a couple seasons in a row and dispose.

  3. #3 Orjin krem
    March 19, 2011

    What I’m interested in and have not seen anything about yet is what will happen, if anything, in marine environments adjoining the area.

  4. #4 Altın çilek form seti
    March 19, 2011

    The most important risk at Chernobyl (and the comparison is valid because we are talking about radioactive dust on crops) was apparently from iodine on food ingested by children. There is still a high rate of thyroid cancer in the affected area. In certain areas, over one third of the children who were under 3 or 4 years of age were expected to develop thyroid cancer, and thousands ended up dying from it (can’t remember the number).

  5. #5 scott
    March 20, 2011

    Off topic a little, but I live on the north coast of California and started thinking about all the debris from the tsunami. I wonder if much of it will find its way to our beaches.

    I noticed that the ocean currents seam to come straight to us. I’m going to have to start keeping an eye out in the following months.

  6. #6 Clam
    March 20, 2011

    Don’t worry about radio-activity. Japan grows soya beans and Joe Mercola has this hilarious warning about them:

    This ‘Beloved’ Food Can Cause Allergic Reactions for Years – and Infertility for Generations!

    Spot the deliberate mistake?