The Fukushima Plant in Japan and Our Food

April 8th, 2011 | Simcha Weinstein | 1 Comment »

I have stayed clear of writing about the Fukushima plant in Japan that is leaking radiation from the massive Earthquake that erupted several weeks ago . . . until now. I have received quite a few inquiries from both our retail customers and from consumers across the country concerned about how the radiation leak may be affecting our food and water supply. My writing abstinence on this issue has been because I am very cautious about adding to the noise level that is already out there, and particularly elevating fears and concerns that people may have that are not based on actual facts and data. So, what I have done is compiled some comments below from scientists and professors (both of whom have no political stake in the findings and are driven by data) who live and work in the areas where there is the most concern.

– The nuclear crisis at Japan’s Fukushima plant is sparking concern over radiation exposure in the United States. Scientists have discovered small amounts of radioactive isotopes in milk in California and Washington and in Bay Area water samples. UC Davis food safety expert and veterinarian Dr. Michael Payne said Americans have no cause for concern over what he calls inconsequential amounts of radioactive material. “The important thing to remember, the levels found inside that milk is 5,000 times less than the most conservative estimate level the FDA or EPA would be concerned about,” Payne said.

– Radiation occurs naturally in the world — inside human bodies, the potassium in bananas, and in rocks and granite counter tops in your kitchen. John Conway, professor of physics at UC Davis, explains there are different types of radiation and for the most part, non-ionizing radiation, the kind that comes from microwaves, cell phones and heat lamps, is harmless. “Like radio waves just pass right through you without doing any harm at all,” Conway said. On the other hand, Conway said that ionizing radiation, like ultraviolet light from tanning beds or x-rays, can be harmful. “It means it knocks electrons off atoms,” Conway said. “It can do damage to your body if it’s absorbed by you.” He added the radioactive Cesium isotopes that have been emitted from Japan’s damaged nuclear plant can be very harmful to humans in large amounts and may be a problem for people living in Japan. Conway says there is no danger to people living in the United States.

– The alarm was sounded on Wednesday, when federal officials announced that tests had detected a trace amount of iodine 131 — a radioactive byproduct released by leaks at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant in Japan — in a sample taken on March 25 in Spokane, Wash. The level of radiation was tiny and would have to be more than 5,000 times higher to reach the “intervention level” set by federal officials. Jason Kelly, a spokesman for the Washington State Department of Agriculture, said the positive sample came from a gallon of pasteurized whole milk produced at the Darigold plant in Spokane, which processes milk from a number of farms in Washington and Idaho.

– The California health department also confirmed Wednesday that it had detected a tiny amount of radioactive iodine in a sample collected Monday from a dairy in San Luis Obispo County on the state’s Central Coast. Milk in San Luis Obispo is regularly tested because the Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant is on the county’s southern coast. Officials said that monitoring — done weekly since the crisis began — was accountable for finding the contamination. “The situation in Japan continues to evolve, but we are still 6,000 miles away.”

– A team at the University of Washington rigged up a detection system as soon as it became clear the Japanese reactors were damaged. Unlike some agencies, they have shared their full results with the public — including the newest measurements that show levels are now a tenth of what they were on March 20, when concentrations of radioactive material peaked in Seattle.

Is there reason for concern? Absolutely. Is there reason for concern in this country? It appears not so much, although it is completely natural to feel concern with what is occurring, particularly when many news outlets produce conflicting reports that seem to encourage and promote fear and confusion. Perhaps the best thing we can do is to keep the people of Japan in our thoughts and meditations as they are experiencing a tragedy beyond what most of us could even imagine.