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Entries in Fukushima (7)

Tuesday
May292012

Fukushima Radiation in Your Sushi?

iStockPhoto/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Those looking for evidence of the March 2011 Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster in Japan may need search no further than their next plate of sushi, Stanford University researchers report.

The researchers tested 15 Pacific bluefin tuna that had migrated from Japan to the California coast and found that the levels of radioactive cesium in these fish were 10 times higher than those found in bluefin tuna from the years before the disaster.

Before you swear off your maguro nigiri, it’s important to realize that the levels of radiation the researchers found from the cesium in the tuna were exceedingly low — about 30 times less than the amount of radiation given off by other common, naturally occurring elements in the tuna we eat.

The findings appeared Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

“The finding should be reassuring to the public,” said Timothy J. Jorgensen, associate professor of radiation medicine at Georgetown University, who was not involved with the study. “As anticipated, the tuna contained only trace levels of radioactivity that originated from Japan. These levels amounted to only a small fraction of the naturally occurring radioactivity in the tuna, and were much too small to have any impact on public health."

“Thus, there is no human health threat posed by consuming migratory tuna caught off the west coast of the United States,” he added.

Still, the fact that the researchers could trace this radioactive material back to its source in Japan could have implications for seafood monitoring methods in the future. Dr. Michael Harbut, director of the Environmental Cancer Program at Wayne State University’s Karmanos Cancer Institute in Detroit, agreed that the findings are no cause for panic. But he said that the finding that tuna and migratory food animals could carry this radioactive material so far across the ocean deserves consideration.

“In general, when you hear the word ‘radiation’ at all, it’s cause for some alarm, and I agree always a cause for significant attention.”

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

Wednesday
Sep212011

Fukushima Fallout in California Waters: A Health Threat?

DigitalGlobe via Getty Images(BERKELEY, Calif.) -- The radioactive fallout from Japan’s Fukushima nuclear plant accident has spread as far as California waters, according to scientists from the University of California, Berkeley.

But although the level of radioactivity in the water was higher than normal, they said, it was still very low and not harmful to humans.

“The levels of fallout we have observed in San Francisco Bay area rain water pose[d] no health risk to the public,” wrote the study authors, led by Eric B. Norman of UC Berkeley’s Department of Nuclear Engineering.

The March earthquake and tsunami that rocked Japan compromised the nuclear plant, causing radioactive material to run into the surrounding waters.  Researchers subsequently found some of that same material in rainwater collected from the San Francisco Bay area.

Samples gathered between March 16 and March 26 showed abnormally high levels of radioactive elements. The levels were highest in samples collected on March 24, but after that the levels returned to normal.

“The levels in the rain water went down very quickly,” said Dr. Nagy Elsayyad, assistant professor of radiation oncology at the University of Miami’s Miller School of Medicine.  “Even the water with the highest levels would be safe. It’s impossible to ingest the amount of water it would take for the radioactivity to be harmful.”

Additionally, he said, people don’t generally drink rainwater.

Scientists also found radioactive material in samples of weeds, vegetables and milk sold in the area, but those levels were also very low.

While people have no reason to fear these findings, Elsayyad understands why people worry when they hear about elevated levels of radiation. The health effects of being exposed to radiation can be very serious, and include organ damage and cancer.

“It’s deeply ingrained in our culture that radiation is harmful,” he said. ”I wouldn’t blame people for being worried, but it’s important to make it clear that these results show the water is safe.”

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

Tuesday
Apr052011

High Radiation in Japanese Fish Raises Concerns

Stockbyte/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- Are you green around the gills with Monday's news that Japan's Tokyo Electric Power Co. is dumping tons of radioactive water into the Pacific Ocean? Experts say there's no need for worry -- at least for now.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration said it will require seafood imported from Japan to be checked for radiation before it enters the food supply. But even with the new screenings, no one in the U.S. government is saying "stop eating tuna."

"Other food products from this area, including seafood, although not subject to the Import Alert, will be diverted for testing by FDA before they can enter the food supply," the FDA said in a prepared statement. "FDA will also be monitoring and testing food products, including seafood, from other areas of Japan as appropriate."

More specifically, an FDA spokesperson told ABC News that U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement "is screening everything from Japan." However, screening does not entail testing all the seafood. In fact, the FDA inspects less than two percent of seafood, according to Winona Hauter, executive director of Food & Water Watch.

Since screening, the FDA confirmed finding three food products from Japan that contained radioactive isotopes, although they were "all too low to cause adverse events." So far, the FDA said that every piece of seafood that has been imported to the United States is safe.

Offshore from the Fukushima plant, the seawater is now testing at levels off the charts -- 7.5 million times more radioactive than the legal limit.

"I can't go out to fish because of the radiation," one Japanese fisherman told ABC News. "I cannot do anything."

But another fisherman said it was a "bad rumor" that the fish was unsafe to eat. "The fish are totally fine, I believe," he said.

Because of the elevated levels, the Japanese government also announced on Tuesday that it will, for the first time, enact radiation safety standards for fish.

"We're deeply sorry for discharging the radiated water," said Japan's chief cabinet secretary Yukio Edano on Monday, "but it was necessary to prevent spreading higher radiated water into the ocean."

Even though radiation levels become diluted in large bodies of water, officials tested a sample of sand lance fish, often used for bait, and found that the species contained nearly double the levels of iodine 131 and cesium 137. The new regulation caps fish radiation levels at the same amount as vegetables -- up to 2,000 bequerels of iodine 131 per kilogram.

Edano said that government will strictly monitor the seafood and move forward after officials understand the full impact of the dumping.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio 

Wednesday
Mar162011

Doctors Say Japan Radiation Danger Outside Plant Not Large, for Now

Sankei via Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- As the world watches Japanese officials struggle to gain control of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, the short- and long-term health of people living in the area has become an overriding priority and topic of conversation worldwide.

ABC News contacted a dozen experts on radiation and, while most said that it is unlikely that the radioactive material will have severe health repercussions on those in Fukushima for now, doctors also agreed that it is too early to tell what will happen as the situation continues.

The Japanese government has evacuated nearly 200,000 residents living in the 20-km exclusion zone and urged others within 30 kilometers of the plant to stay indoors and keep their homes airtight.

Jacky Williams, director and core leader of the Center for Biophysical Assessment and Risk Management Following Irradiation at the University of Rochester Medical Center, called the 20-kilometer evacuation radius an "extremely conservative safety zone to protect against fallout."

On Monday, the World Health Organization's spokesman, Gregory Hartl, tried to ease people's worry.

"From what we know at the moment on the radiation levels, the public health risk is minimal for Japan," Hartl said. "That means that if someone is affected, there is no great risk."

But many people remained concerned after Japan's Prime Minister Naoto Kan said the damaged nuclear reactors may spew further radiation.

"The leaked radiation level is now rather high and there is high chance for further leakage of radiation from now on," Kan told residents on Tuesday.

"These are figures that potentially affect health," Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano told residents.  "There is no mistake about that."

Experts agree that simple measures like creating a sealed containment in one's home and washing one's body and clothing has a direct impact on long-term and short-term effects of potential radiation exposure.  Experts also agree that it is too early to tell the short-term and long-term damage.

"Until the type and quantity of the radioactive materials released into the atmosphere can be determined, it is impossible to estimate," said Jeff Clanton, director of radiopharmacy services at Vanderbilt University Medical Center.

The Japanese government has dispensed more than 200,000 units of potassium iodide, a drug commonly used to treat low-level radiation exposure, which would block radioactive iodine to prevent thyroid cancers. 

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

Tuesday
Mar152011

Fallout Fears: Potential Health Impact of the Japan Nuclear Crisis

YOMIURI SHIMBUN/AFP/Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- As workers hurry to cool the exposed fuel rods at the Daiichi nuclear plant in Japan's quake-battered Fukushima prefecture, health officials are screening evacuees from the 12-mile danger zone surrounding the plant for radiation.

Nineteen people have shown signs of radiation exposure following the two hydrogen blasts at the plant's No.1 and No. 3 reactor buildings.  And 141 more are feared to have been exposed while waiting for evacuation, including a group of 60 people removed by helicopter from a high school, according to Japan's Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency.

Although the health impact of radiation at low doses is controversial, the National Research Council maintains that no level of above what occurs naturally is safe.  Prior to the latest emergency at the Daiichi plant, radiation levels at the plant reached 3,130 microsieverts per hour -- roughly half the average annual dose in the U.S.

But even if a meltdown is avoided, the possibility of low-level radiation circulating in the air and contaminating the soil following the two steam-releasing explosions is very real, according to Dr. Janette Sherman, author and specialist in internal medicine and toxicology from Alexandria, Virginia.

"To assume that steam containing radioisotopes found in nuclear reactors is not going to have health effects, I think, is wishful thinking," Sherman said.

Those radioisotopes, such as iodine-131, strontium-90, and cesium-137, get taken in by the body.  As they decay, they give off energy in the form of gamma rays, beta rays that penetrate deep through tissues, and alpha rays that damage DNA.  Sherman likens them to harmful chemicals that settle in various tissues of the body.

"We know that radioactive iodine, which goes to the thyroid, can cause cancer and stunt children's growth," said Sherman, adding that exposure during pregnancy can damage the fetal brain.  "We know strontium-90 goes to bones and teeth and is linked to leukemia and immune dysfunction.  And we know cesium goes to soft tissues, like muscle and breast tissue.

The Japanese government has evacuated 184,670 residents from 10 towns in the 20-kilometer exclusion zone surrounding the plant -- a distance that Sherman said might not be sufficient.

"We know nuclear radiation [from Chernobyl] drifted as far as North America," Sherman said.

Drifting fallout could also contaminate food and water beyond the evacuation zone.

"They shouldn't eat or drink anything contaminated by cesium," Sherman said. "All food and drink have to come from outside the area."

The Japanese government has distributed 230,000 units of potassium iodide to evacuation centers bordering the danger zone as a precaution, in case radiation levels surge.  Potassium iodide can block radioactive iodine from entering the thyroid -- a butterfly-shaped gland in the neck that produces hormones that regulate metabolism.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

Monday
Mar142011

Radiation Exposure: Five Things You Need to Know

DigitalGlobe via Getty Images. Satellite view of Fukushima Dai-Ichi nuclear power plant.(NEW YORK) -- Evacuees in Fukushima grew more fearful Monday of radiation exposure as Japan experienced its second explosion at a nuclear power plant.

On Good Morning America Monday morning, ABC News' chief health and medical editor Dr. Richard Besser discussed some potential hazards of radiation.

Here are five facts to help you better understand radiation exposure:

1. Radiation can be found naturally and nearly everywhere in the environment.  Heat, light and microwaves all emit some form of radiation.  Uranium, thorium, and radium that emit radiation are found naturally in the earth's soil.  This type of exposure is generally not considered a health concern.

2. Our bodies are all exposed to small amounts of radiation.  According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 80 percent of human exposure comes from natural sources and the remaining 20 percent comes from man-made radiation sources, mainly medical x-rays.  Overall, scientists do not find our everyday exposures harmful.

3. During a nuclear explosion, people are overexposed to high amounts of radiation over a short period of time and may develop acute radiation syndrome (ARS).  Within the first few hours of exposure, people with ARS may experience nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and skin damage.  Over time, the radiation can damage a person's bone marrow and cause internal bleeding and infections.  Most people who do not recover from ARS will die within several months of exposure.

4. Local communities should have a plan in place in case of a radiation emergency.  Check with your town to learn more about its emergency preparedness plan and possible evacuation routes.

5. During a radiation emergency, such as fears of a nuclear plant explosion, you may be advised to create a "shelter in place."  This means you should stay inside your home or office, or perhaps another confined area indoors.  To keep your shelter in place effective, you should: close and lock all doors and windows; turn off fans, air conditioners, or any units that bring in air from outside; move to an inner room or basement; keep your radio tuned to the emergency response network or local news to find out further instructions.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

Sunday
Mar132011

What Are the Health Risks of Radiation?

DigitalGlobe via Getty Images(TOKYO) -- The steam plume drifting from the Fukushima, Japan, nuclear plant that exploded after Friday's 8.9-magnitude earthquake and the looming possibility of a meltdown there have U.S. scientists warning of possible serious health risks.

Although the steel container protecting the plant's No.1 reactor was not damaged in the explosion, radiation levels near the plant rose to roughly twice that which constitute an emergency situation, according to Japanese officials, prompting a doubling of the evacuation radius to 20 kilometers.

Japan's nuclear safety agency has since reported a malfunctioning cooling system at a second reactor in the same plant.

"Members of the public are not in imminent danger at a distance of 20 kilometers, so long as they are not downwind," said John Williams, professor of nuclear and energy engineering at the University of Arizona.

But while the breadth of the evacuation zone may limit the risk of acute radiation sickness, the potential for chronic conditions, such as cancer and cardiovascular disease remains.

Edwin Lyman, a senior scientist with the Union of Concerned Scientists, said wind over the Fukushima prefecture could boost radiation to cancer-causing levels up to 100 miles away. Tokyo, home to nearly 13 million people in 2009, is roughly 200 miles away.

Low dose radiation exposure is also linked to a heightened risk of cardiovascular disease, according to the National Research Council. 

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio







ABC News Radio