Uncommon knowledge, news, and opinion

Uncommon knowledge, news, and opinion

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Nation’s most polluted cities are all in California – American Lung Association

April 30, 2011 at 4:16 pm By Roz Potter

From the American Lung Association.  Link

California has nine of the top twelve cities/towns with the most ozone polluted air. To learn more about ozone, click here


Ozone (O3) is an extremely reactive gas molecule composed of three oxygen atoms. It is the primary ingredient of smog air pollution and is very harmful to breathe. Ozone attacks lung tissue by reacting chemically with it. …

Ozone is formed by chemical reactions in the atmosphere from two raw gases that do come out of tailpipes, smokestacks and many other sources. These essential raw ingredients for ozone are nitrogen oxides (NOx) and hydrocarbons, also called volatile organic compounds (VOCs). They are produced primarily when fossil fuels like gasoline, oil or coal are burned or when some chemicals, like solvents, evaporate.

Breathing ozone can shorten your life. Two early studies published in 2004 found strong evidence of the deadly impact of ozone in cities across the U.S. and in Europe. Even on days when ozone levels were low, the researchers found that the risk of premature death increased with higher levels of ozone.

For year-round particle pollution, California has 6 of the top twelve spots. To learn more about particle pollution, click here

Excerpt:  Ever look at dirty truck exhaust?

The dirty, smoky part of that stream of exhaust is made of particle pollution. Overwhelming evidence shows that particle pollution—like that coming from that exhaust smoke—can kill. Particle pollution can increase the risk of heart disease, lung cancer and asthma attacks and can interfere with the growth and work of the lungs.

For short-term particle pollution, California has seven of the top twelve spots, including two areas that are tied for ninth place. To see the list, click here

Couch Potato Preparedness Planning, Part I

April 26, 2011 at 10:00 am By Roz Potter

If everyday activities like working, cooking, shopping, house- and garden-keeping, child rearing, socializing, worship, staying healthy, getting through the day, and other pursuits seem more urgent than disaster preparedness, you’ve got a lot of company.

In the absence of a disaster in your life, everyday pursuits are more compelling and many are a lot more fun. But if you find your preparedness conscience being pricked by world events, yet are truly limited in your ability to prepare due to the resources required (cost, time, health), there is a an alternative to full-blown disaster preparedness.

It’s Couch Potato or Incidental Preparedness. And these are the benefits.

First, you’ll have one emergency supply of water. That means survival. You can live without food, but not without water.

Second, you will have food that can be eaten under disaster conditions. Although food is not essential for short-term survival, you’ll be a lot happier, healthier and energetic if you’re able to eat a reasonable diet. For infants, the elderly, the ill and already malnourished, it’s a necessity for survival.

Third, you’ll have medications and medical supplies to sustain you, your family and others, when there is no other supply.

Forth, if you choose to go that far, you’ll have hygiene, sanitation and comfort items, safety and communication, essential documents and cash. We’re not going there this time – that’s Part II of Couch Potato Preparedness Planning.

While the following preparedness activities do require someone to get off the couch, many people can accomplish them in the course of everyday or weekly activities. These activities are a starting, not an end point. The Couch Potato Plan takes some extra effort and cash, but then so does turning on the lights.

1.  Purchase one 2.5 gallon bottle of water every week or every other week, until you have at least 5  gallons for each person in your house. Ten gallons per person is better, twenty is much better. Current cost, around $3.00 per 2.5 gallon container. Benefit, survival. You cannot live without water. Downside, one gallon per person per day is enough for drinking (for most people and conditions) and minimal cooking or hygiene but not both. One gallon containers are a better choice for the elderly, those with arthritis, and for convenience.

2. Once a week, transfer from your cupboard or purchase 2 extra cans or packages of food that your family likes to eat, for each person in your household. Preparedness foods should meet the following requirements: no need for cooking, refrigeration, or heating, under 400mg of salt per serving (if possible),  uses little water, calorie-dense, familiar and liked by household members. Your list may include ready to eat cereal, canned soups, stews, meats and fish, canned fruits and vegetables, high calorie food bars, unsalted nuts, crackers, dehydrated milk and other beverages. Store food supplies in an insect and rodent impervious bin in a cool, dark, reasonably accessible place. Don’t forget a manual can opener.

3. Add one item to your medical kit each week. This could be extra medications, first aid supplies, a first aid and/or home medical care guide, a list of your prescription drugs including their name, dose and frequency, primary medical conditions, drug, latex and other allergies, and if available, blood type for each family member. I suggest you include face masks, gloves and over the counter medications for common ailments such as diarrhea, constipation, pain, allergic reactions,  inflammation, colds, sleep, anxiety (plenty of that during disasters) and other needs.

On a couch potato day, someone could list current contents but don’t push it. This is incidental preparedness. If you make it too burdensome, there could be pushback so that instead of a beginning to preparedness, it’s the end.

If you’re more goal driven, you may want to first set a goal for each of the three categories, i.e. the number of days supply for each person in your family, a food supply that will meet particular calorie and nutritional criteria, or perhaps a full complement of medical supplies and medications needed for most eventualities. You might decide on a 3 day supply of food, water, medications and some contact/medical information. Or maybe a 10 or 20 day version, or just the food and water part. Or, just the contact/medical information part.

In Part II, we’ll take a look at other, above noted,categories of Couch Potato Preparedness including safety and communications, comfort items, hygiene and sanitation, shelter and tools, critical documents and cash. And, if you can bear it, the location and number of supply caches you may want to stock, if only in a rudimentary manner.

Fish anyone? Farallon Islands (and other) oceanic radioactive waste dumps

April 21, 2011 at 2:23 pm By Roz Potter

Farallon Islands Radioactive Waste Dump. Source: USGS

Long before Fukushima dumped millions of gallons of highly radioactive water into the sea, the oceans have been designated repositories for radioactive waste and fallout according to reports from the USGS and articles in the SF Weekly and Mother Jones.

Radioactive pollution sources include fallout from nuclear bomb tests, sunken nuclear-powered submarines,  radioactive waste from the Naval Radiological Defense Laboratory at Hunters Point Shipyard, sea burials for the USS Independence and other ships contaminated by radiological tests or fallout, fallen navigation satellites with radioactive generators aboard, and accidents and chronic emissions from nuclear reprocessing and power plants.

These as yet untallied radiation emitters should be added, along with oil leaks from uncapped wells and other sources, to the long official list of “background” radiation sources, so that the true, consequential total can be calculated. The following is from the USGSSF Weekly, and Mother Jones Magazine.


First, the USGS:

Between 1946 and 1970, approximately 47,800 large barrels and other containers of radioactive waste were dumped in the ocean west of San Francisco. The containers were to be dumped at three designated sites, but they a litter sea floor area of at least 1,400 km2 known as the Farallon Island Radioactive Waste Dump.

The exact location of the containers and the potential hazard the containers pose to the environment are unknown.

From a SF Weekly article, May 9, 2001

Newly released documents indicate the Navy dumped far more nuclear waste than it’s ever acknowledged in a major commercial fishery just 30 miles west of San Francisco. Why won’t the government even study the Farallon Islands Nuclear Waste Site?

The routine was always the same: Barrels were collected on the barge until it was full, and then it sailed out the Golden Gate and dropped its load into the sea. On a few occasions, Gessleman remembers, a representative from the Atomic Energy Commission came on board the ship and told the captain that measurements showed the radiation levels were too high, and the ship should be cleaned up before the next load.

Another part of Gessleman’s job was to shoot holes in the barrels that didn’t immediately sink, so that they would.


The Navy’s own documents, declassified at the request of SF Weekly, show that significant amounts of the nuclear bomb component plutonium, which has a half-life of 24,000 years, and similarly long-lived “mixed fission” products were used at the nuclear laboratory at Hunters Point. The Navy has asserted that all nuclear materials used at the NRDL were subsequently disposed of at the Farallon waste site.

From Mother Jones

5) Ocean dumps:
  • Dump sites for radioactive waste were created in the northeast Atlantic (1 site), off Europe (3), off the US eastern seaboard (1), and off the US Pacific coast (1).
  • Between 1946 and 1970, the US dumped ~107,000 drums of radioactive wastes at its two sites, including some 47,800 in the ocean west of San Francisco, supposedly at three designated sites. However drums actually litter an area of at least 1,400 square kilometers/540 square miles, known as the Farallon Island Radioactive Waste Dump, which now falls almost entirely within the boundaries of the Gulf of the Farallones National Marine Sanctuary. The exact location of most drums is unknown. At least some are corroding.

A drum of radioactive waste dumped off San Francisco. Credit: USGS.A drum of radioactive waste dumped off San Francisco. Credit: USGS.

A 1996 paper in Health Physics described some of the radionuclides found in the tissues of deep-sea bottom-feeding fishes—Dover sole, sablefish, and thornyheads—plus intertidal mussels in the waters around the Farallon Islands:
Concentrations of both [plutonium-238] and [Americium-241] in fish tissues were notably higher than those reported in literature from any other sites world-wide, including potentially contaminated sites. These results show approximately 10 times higher concentrations of [plutonium-238+240] and approximately 40-50 times higher concentrations of [plutonium-238] than those values reported for identical fish species from 1977 collections at the [Farallon Islands Nuclear Waste Dump Site].

Radioactive leaks over 6 days total 20,000 times more than annual limit

April 21, 2011 at 10:39 am By Roz Potter

From the Japan Times, Link


Tokyo Electric Power Co. said Thursday radioactive substances that leaked into the sea from its crisis-hit nuclear plant over six days from April 1 totaled an estimated 5,000 terabecquerels, 20,000 times more than the annual allowable limit for the plant.

The radioactive substances were in an estimated 520 tons of high-level radioactive water that leaked into the sea from the No. 2 reactor of the six-reactor Fukushima No. 1 plant, which was devastated by the March 11 quake-tsunami disaster in the Tohoku region.

The leaks were found on April 2 and were stopped on April 6.

The estimated 5,000 terabecquerels is far lower than 370,000 to 630,000 terabecquerels, the estimated amount of radioactive substances released into the atmosphere from the plant. Editor’s note: This comparison is misleading as it  refers to one massive leak into the sea. There have been many radioactive flows into the sea from Fukushima since March 11, but these liquid emissions have not be tallied or added to the atmospheric emissions.

FDA refuses to test fish for radioactivity

April 19, 2011 at 10:38 pm By Roz Potter

From Washington’s blog  Link

Hmmmmm. Can the FDA say there is no radioactivity in fish, if  fish are not being tested for radioactivity? Apparently so. Read on.


The FDA says it won’t monitor radiation in fish on the West Coast of the U.S. As the Anchorage Daily News notes:

North Pacific fish are so unlikely to be contaminated by radioactive material from the crippled nuclear plant in Japan that there’s no reason to test them, state and federal officials said this week.


DeLancey, the FDA spokeswoman, said “We have not been doing any testing. We’ve been working with NOAA to keep an eye on U.S. waters, to see if there is any cause for alarm, and we do have the capability to begin testing if that does occur.”


As the Wall Street Journal notes:

U.S. public-health officials sought Tuesday to reassure consumers about the safety of food in the U.S., including seafood, amid news that fish contaminated with unusually high levels of radioactive materials had been caught in waters 50 miles from the stricken Fukushima nuclear plant in Japan.

No contaminated fish have turned up in the U.S., or in U.S. waters, according to experts from the Food and Drug Administration [which isn't testing].


They also dismissed concerns that eating fish contaminated at the levels seen so far in Japan would pose such a risk. [Alexander Higgins points out that Japanese fish exceed federal radiation limits by 2400%]

Thomas Frieden, head of the CDC in Atlanta, said he expected continued detection of low levels of radioactive elements in the water, air and food in the U.S. in coming days, but that readings at those levels “do not indicate any level of public health concern.”

Is this yet another example of the government responding to the nuclear accident by trying to raise acceptable radiation levels and pretending that radiation is good for us?

Natural disasters in 2010: A year of living dangerously

April 19, 2011 at 11:34 am By Roz Potter

From the Avian Flu Diary blog Link ,  a review of a 94 page report from the Brookings Institution, Link, Excerpt:

Almost 300 million people were affected by natural disasters in 2010. The large disasters provided
constant headlines throughout the year, beginning with the devastating earthquake in Haiti followed
one month later by the even more severe—but far less deadly—earthquake in Chile.

In the spring, ash spewing from volcano Eyjafjallajökull in Iceland paralyzed flights for weeks in the northern
hemisphere. Early summer witnessed the worst Russian wildfires in history while a few months
later, the steadily rising floodwaters in Pakistan covered 20 percent of the country. In sum, it was a
terrible year in terms of natural disasters causing havoc and destruction around the globe. However,
many of the largest disasters barely made headlines in the Western press.

Most notably, over 130 million Chinese were affected by the worst flooding in recent history—this
is more than five times the number of people affected by the earthquake in Haiti and the Pakistani
floods combined—but the Chinese floods received far less international attention than either Pakistan
or Haiti.

Health effects from Fukushima: Two experts give their views

April 18, 2011 at 11:24 am By Roz Potter

What health risks for people in the United States does the nuclear crisis in Japan pose?

Ira Helfand, board member and former president of the medical and public health group Physicians for Social Responsibility, says there is no “safe” level of radiation and that while levels reaching the U.S. now are relatively low, they could get much worse if things deteriorate at the Japanese plant. But for now, he advises caution, not panic.

David Brenner, from Columbia University’s Center for Radiological Research was also interviewed. His views follow Dr. Helfand’s.

Dr. Hefland, Link,   Excerpt:

I think the health risk right now in the U.S. is relatively low. There is no safe dose of radiation, so any exposure is not good for you and does increase your chance of getting cancer. The concern is how much radiation is ultimately going to come out of this plant. At the moment, the amount is said to be about 10 percent of the amount released at Chernobyl. The amount that is potentially releasable there is much, much larger than Chernobyl, and the situation remains completely out of control at this point.

There’s still a substantial risk that there will be large amounts of radiation from Fukushima, and in that case we could see a significant exposure here in the United States. Following Chernobyl, people in large numbers developed cancers as a result of their exposure to that radiation, and that is the potential risk here, although we’re not at that point yet.

David Brenner from Columbia University’s Center for Radiological Research, Link


Radioactive versions of elements such as cesium, iodine, and strontium can enter the body either through the lungs or by eating and drinking affected food… The health consequences are actually very small for any individual. That being said, there are longer-term issues… Whatever cesium was released will get into the food chain, into the ecosystem, and it will gradually get dispersed. So there will be some in the food and water for generations to come. It will be at some level but it will be at a very low level. What we really have will be a prolonged exposure to very low levels of radioactive from the Fukushima event. That’s really what we’re stuck with. But the risk for any individual will be tiny.

Although individual risk is low, an awful lot of people exposed to it. Think of the lottery. An awful lot of people will [be involved] because somebody’s going to win…[In this case] one would expect some extra cancers in the long run but everybody’s individual risk is low.

Save your money: Geiger counters ineffective for detecting radiation from food, water

April 17, 2011 at 11:44 am By Roz Potter

Link, Excerpt:

Geiger counters are probably ineffective for consumers in detecting hazardous levels of radiation in food and water at home, scientists, professors and device makers said.

Large samples should be tested in laboratory-like settings to obtain results, said Joseph Rotunda, who heads the radiation measurement division at toolmaker Thermo Fisher Scientific Inc. Determining whether food, water or milk is safe also requires expert knowledge and more sophisticated equipment than the typical devices sold online, said Atsushi Katayama, a member of the Japan Society for Analytical Chemistry.

The ministry recommends using tools known as scintillation counters to detect iodine-131 in milk and vegetables, while devices called “inductively coupled plasma mass spectrometers” should be used to trace uranium.

Buyers should chose an instrument that comes with clear instructions for interpreting results and is sensitive enough to measure background radiation, or about 0.01 microsieverts, Allison and Katayama said. Geiger counters with a digital display and ability to save a log of the results are easier to use and preferable to devices featuring analog screens with moving needles, they said.

Removing radioactive particles from drinking water

April 17, 2011 at 12:37 am By Roz Potter

This document from the EPA indicates that reverse osmosis will remove some radioactive particles from drinking water. Although radioactivity levels in drinking water have been low, the situation at Fukushima is very unstable and could substantially worsen, releasing much larger amounts of radioactive particles in the future. When that happens, it may be too late to install an effective water purification device or system.  Link


Reverse osmosis is a pressure-driven membrane separation process. Water is forced through a membrane with small pores by pressures ranging from 100 to 150 psi. Any molecules larger than the pore openings are excluded from the product stream along with a significant portion of the water. Treated water is collected on the other side.


Reverse osmosis has been identified by EPA as a ¿best available technology ¿(BAT) and Small System Compliance Technology (SSCT) for uranium, radium, gross alpha, and beta particles and photon emitters. It can remove up to 99 percent of these radionuclides, as well as many other contaminants (e.g., arsenic, nitrate, and microbial contaminants). Reverse osmosis units can be automated and compact making them appropriate for small systems.

The toll of hundreds of aftershocks? New leaks at Fukushima Dai-ichi as radiation levels rise sharply

April 16, 2011 at 11:48 am By Roz Potter



Levels of radioactive materials have risen sharply again in seawater near the troubled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant in northern Japan, raising the possibility of new leaks at the complex, the government said Saturday.

Workers have been struggling to deal with contaminated runoff at the plant that resulted from makeshift efforts to cool reactors and spent fuel rod pools after a huge earthquake and tsunami knocked out regular cooling systems.

Much of the tons of water that has been sprayed on the reactors and pools has been stored, but the company that operates the plant, the Tokyo Electric Power Company, recently discovered and eventually plugged a leak that could have been gushing for days. The levels of radioactive materials in the ocean near the plant dropped after that.

But the government said Saturday that levels of radioactive materials in the seawater have risen again in recent days.

California food supply and soil radioactive contamination from Iodine-131, Cesium-124, and Cesium -137

April 16, 2011 at 11:36 am By Roz Potter

From the Department of Nuclear Engineering, UC Berkeley. See link at the bottom of the post.

Notes from your editor:  The numbers in parentheses after the radiation activity level indicate the number of kilograms “that one would need to consume to equal the radiation exposure on one round trip flight from San Francisco to Washington, D.C. (0.05 mSV).”

For example, one would have to consume 2, 570 kg of spinach contaminated with  Cesium-134, purchased on 4/7/11, to absorb the equivalent radiation from making one SF to DC flight.  One kg equals 2.2 pounds. So, for that batch of spinach, one would have to eat 5654  pounds to equal the radiation exposure from one flight.

But is it reasonable to compare the dose from a round-trip airline flight to the amount in particular contaminated foods? Here are some reasons why this comparison may not be valid:

  • For an airline flight, the radiation source diminishes rapidly with altitude so that the dose effectively vanishes  at low altitudes
  • For food, soil (and also milk, water and other sources) that have been contaminated, radioactivity persists.  Once radioactive materials are taken into our bodies, they stay there for varying periods of time, until they decay or are excreted. Meanwhile, our cells, tissues and organs are being bombarded by radioactivity according to the energy of each type of radioisotope and its effective half-life.
    • The physical half of Iodine-131 is relatively short, but Cesium-137, which accumulates in muscles and other tissues, has a half-life of 30 years. The effective half-life of Cesium-137 is 110 days, still a long time.
    • We eat several types of food at each meal and we drink beverages, several times a day, day in and day out. Since each type of food we eat and each liquid we drink is contaminated with radioactivity, each time we eat or drink it, the cumulative dose should be taken into account for all the foods and liquids we ingest for every day they are taken into our bodies. (Note: water from covered wells, springs and reservoirs may not be contaminated.
  • Neither UC Berkeley nor any other entity is testing for all radioactive materials arriving via the jet stream from the Fukushima plant in Japan. Berkeley is testing only for Cesium-124, Cesium-137 and Iodine-131, Iodine -132, and Tellurium-132. The EPA tests for far fewer types. Other  unidentified radioactive particles are also getting into our food, water, soil, animals, homes and businesses.
  • Radioactive particles from Japan have been scattered over the earth for five weeks, with no end in sight. These radioisotopes are accumulating in our bodies, soil, water, crops, animals, oceans and atmosphere faster than they are being removed through decay and other processes.
    • Due to the large amount of contaminated grasses and contaminated water consumed by grazing animals and the concentration of radioactivity in milk, milk and other products of grazing animals contain more elevated levels of radionuclides than other foods.
  • We cannot shield ourselves from radiation in food and water (or air) . We must take these substances into our bodies to survive. We usually have a choice about flights; whether to take them at all, or to travel by train or car instead.

There are many more sources of radioactive particles from Fukushima and routes of entrance into our bodies than are noted above or tallied.

  • In addition to eating and drinking them, we are inhaling these same radioactive particles, adding to the internal radiation dose. Hot showers aerosolize the particles, so they are inhaled from this source as well. Sweeping and vacuuming redistribute settled particles into the air adding to the particles that are inhaled.  Vacuums with HEPA filters may filter out some particles.
  • Some types of radioactivity penetrate our skin, or enter our bodies through cuts or other skin openings
  • The continuing contamination from Fukushima effectively distributes radioactive particles onto every surface and object in our lives, either directly or indirectly. For example, we track these particles into our homes, businesses and other destinations on our shoes. Our pets are contaminated.  We take showers and wash our clothes and dishes with contaminated water. We touch contaminated items with our hands and then put our fingers or the contaminated items into our mouths. The contaminated objects themselves may emit radiation, albeit tiny amounts.


Radionuclides, once deposited by rainwater or air onto the ground, will find their way through the ecosystem. We are already tracking its path from rainwater to creek runoff to tap water, but we would also like to monitor how much these isotopes that make their way into our food. For example, how much gets taken up by the grass and eventually winds up in our milk?

We have been collecting produce that is as local as possible to test for the radioactive isotopes. We might expect different kinds of plants to take up different quantities of cesium and iodine, so we are trying to measure as many different plants and fruits as we are able to. So far, we have measured grass, wild mushrooms, spinach, strawberries, cilantro, kale, and arugula. We have also measured local topsoil.


Japan confirms partial meltdowns at three reactors & in fuel rods at 1 & 2 – plutonium detected for 3rd time

April 15, 2011 at 2:44 pm By Roz Potter

From the Atomic Energy Society of Japan.  Link Excerpt:

The academic body’s panel on nuclear energy safety has said the melted fuel at the Nos. 1 to 3 reactors has been kept at a relatively low temperature, discounting the possibility that a large amount of melted fuel has already built up at the bottom of the reactor vessels given the temperature readings there.

A large buildup of melted nuclear fuel could transform into a molten mass so hot that it could damage the critical containers and eventually leak huge amounts of radioactive materials.

The panel has also said that the fuel grains with a diameter of between several millimeters and 1 centimeter are believed to have settled evenly at the bottom of the vessels, leaving almost no possibility of a nuclear chain reaction called ”recriticality.”

Takashi Sawada, deputy chairman of the group, assessed that even if the current stabilization efforts proceed smoothly, it would take at least two to three months for the fuel to be stabilized with few if any radioactive emissions.

The panel also found that the fuel rods in the Nos. 1 to 3 reactors have been damaged after analyzing data made public by the plant operator, known as TEPCO, and the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency, which comes under the wing of the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry.

The panel has assumed that the fuel has slowly melted and become granular as it was quenched when it fell into the cooling water and then settled at the bottom of the reactor pressure vessels.

Parts of the fuel rods in the Nos. 1 and 2 reactors have apparently been exposed, while those in the No. 3 reactor have been completely submerged in water, according to the panel.

Meanwhile, small amounts of plutonium believed to have been released as a result of the ongoing disaster have been detected in soil samples taken at the nuclear complex in Fukushima Prefecture, according to TEPCO.

Radioactive sludge being used as fertilizer on US farmland

April 13, 2011 at 4:14 pm By Roz Potter

From the Stuart Smith blog Link , via the Daily Kos

The revelation that natural gas drilling companies are dumping radioactive waste water into our rivers virtually unregulated was shocking enough, but now the New York Times is reporting that radioactive sludge is being used for fertilizer on our nation’s farms. You heard right: radioactive fertilizer – a direct line to the food chain.

Has the whole world gone stark raving mad? Well, if not the whole world, at least the part that handles U.S. environmental regulation.

The news that radioactive material is being used for fertilizer on the farms that produce our vegetables and milk (among other food products) should make even the most permissive pro-industry segments of the American public exceedingly uncomfortable. Radiation outside the food chain – in rivers, for example – is one level of risk, but radiation contamination in the food chain is a much more serious and insidious threat to public health.

Also see NYT articles, Here and Here


Toxic Contamination From Natural Gas Wells

The New York Times collected data from more than 200 natural gas wells in Pennsylvania. Many of them are tapping into the Marcellus Shale, a vast underground rock formation. But a method being used to stimulate wells, called hydraulic fracturing, produces wastewater containing corrosive salts and radioactive and carcinogenic materials. In Pennsylvania, this wastewater has been sent through sewage treatment plants that cannot remove some of the contaminants before the water is discharged into rivers and streams that provide drinking water. The Times was able to map 149 of the wells.

Definite health effects from low levels of radiation in food and water

April 13, 2011 at 1:40 pm By Roz Potter

Editor: It appears that a number of news accounts are confusing deterministic effects with stochastic effects, creating a serious mix-up about the health risks associated with the ingestion of food and water contaminated with radionuclides.

From the Canadian Health Service, Link Excerpts from page 12:

Deterministic effects are characterized by a generally accepted minimum level of dose, or threshold, be low which they are not expected to occur, and result from the body’s in ability to cope with the death of a significant number of cells in certain tissues or organs. The severity of these effects, such as nausea, skin burns or acute radiation syndrome, increases with dose above a clinical threshold, and with few exceptions appear within days to weeks after exposure. The threshold for early observable effects such as nausea or temporary blood cell changes is about 250-500 mSv received in a short period of time (ICRP 1991).

Stochastic effects result from damage to cellular DNA, and may not show up until years after the exposure has occurred. The effects of primary concern are an increased risk of radiologically-attributable cancer in exposed persons and potential genetic disorders in their offspring. The likelihood of experiencing these effects, rather than their severity, is assumed to be proportional to dose, and it is generally assumed that there is no level of radiation, however small, that is completely free of the risk of stochastic effects.

Stochastic effects are the primary health risk associated with exposure to low doses of  radiation, including those due to the consumption of contaminated food and water.

Radioactive contamination of food including radioisotopes of concern

April 13, 2011 at 1:05 pm By Roz Potter

From the World Health Organization, Link Excerpts:

When large amounts of radioisotopes are discharged into the environment, they can affect foods by either falling onto the surface of foods like fruits and vegetables or animal feed as deposits from the air or through contaminated rainwater/snow.

Radioactivity in water can also accumulate in rivers and the sea, depositing on fish and seafood. Once in the environment, radioactive material can also become incorporated into food as it is taken up by plants, seafood or ingested by animals.

Although many different kinds of radionuclides can be discharged following a major nuclear emergency, some are very short-lived and others do not readily transfer into food.

Radionuclides generated in nuclear installations and that could be significant for the food chain include; radioactive hydrogen (3H), carbon (14C), technetium (99Tc), sulphur (35S), cobalt (60Co) strontium (89Sr and 90Sr), ruthenium (103Ru and 106Ru), iodine (131I and 129I), uranium (235U) plutonium (238Pu, 239Pu and 240Pu), caesium (134Cs and 137Cs), cerium (103Ce), iridium (192Ir), and americium (241Am).

Of immediate concern is iodine-131, it is distributed over a wide area, found in water and on crops and is rapidly transferred from contaminated feed into milk. However, iodine-131 has a relatively short half-live and will decay within a few weeks. In contrast, radioactive caesium which can also be detected early on, is longer-lived (Cs-134 has a half life of about 2 years and Cs-137 has a half life of about 30 years) and can remain in the environment for a long-time. Radioactive caesium is also relatively rapidly transferred from feed to milk. Uptake of caesium into food is also of long term concern.

Open-air vegetables and plants can be affected by the atmospheric release of radionuclides, resulting in radioactive contamination. Thus, radionuclides tend to be detected from leafy vegetables especially the ones with large leafy parts in the early phase after a nuclear accident.

Milk is also associated with the early-phase contamination due to the rapid transfer of radioactive iodine and “relatively” rapid transfer of radioactive caesium from contaminated feed into milk.

Over time, radioactivity can also build up within food, as radionuclides are transferred through soil into crops or animals, or into rivers, lakes and the sea where fish and other seafood could take up the radionuclides. Foods collected from the wild, such as mushrooms, berries and game meat, may continue to be a radiological problem for a long time.

Fish and aquatic microflora may bioconcentrate certain radionuclides, but due to the high dilution of radionuclides in water, contamination tends to be confined relatively locally.

Bad news: Japan confirms damage to nuclear fuel rods at reactor #4 pond

April 13, 2011 at 11:32 am By Roz Potter

From  Kyodo news today,  Excerpt:

The roof and the upper walls of the No. 4 reactor building have been blown away by a hydrogen explosion and damaged by fires since the disaster struck the plant. The water level in the spent fuel pool is believed to have temporarily dropped.

TEPCO said the fuel rods may have also been damaged by steel frames that fell into the pool in addition to overheating caused by the loss of cooling functions after the twin disasters.

Some of the spent nuclear fuel rods stored in the No. 4 reactor building of the crisis-hit Fukushima Daiichi power plant were confirmed to be damaged, but most of them are believed to be in sound condition, plant operator Tokyo Electric Power Co. said Wednesday.

The firm known as TEPCO said its analysis of a 400-milliliter water sample taken Tuesday from the No. 4 unit’s spent nuclear fuel pool revealed the damage to some fuel rods in such a pool for the first time, as it detected higher-than-usual levels of radioactive iodine-131, cesium-134 and cesium-137.

The No. 4 reactor, halted for a regular inspection before last month’s earthquake and tsunami disaster, had all of its 1,331 spent fuel rods and 204 unused fuel rods stored in the pool for the maintenance work and the fuel was feared to have sustained damage from overheating. (note: this is more nuclear fuel than was at Chernobyl: Roz’s note)

The cooling period for 548 of the 1,331 rods was shorter than that for others and the volume of decay heat emitted from the fuel in the No. 4 unit pool is larger compared with pools at other reactor buildings.

According to TEPCO, radioactive iodine-131 amounting to 220 becquerels per cubic centimeter, cesium-134 of 88 becquerels and cesium-137 of 93 becquerels were detected in the pool water. Those substances are generated by nuclear fission.

The government’s Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency said the confirmed radioactive materials were up to 100,000 times higher than normal but that the higher readings may have also been caused by the pouring of rainwater containing much radioactivity or particles of radiation-emitting rubble in the pool.

Is Japan’s nuclear crisis as severe as Chernobyl?

April 13, 2011 at 11:16 am By Roz Potter

Joe Cirincione, President of the Ploughshares Fund, a global security foundation, from a Salon.com interview yesterday. Excerpt:

“Fukushima could ultimately release as much or more radiation than Chernobyl. It was that realization, I think, that was behind the re-categorization”.

Is the situation deteriorating at the plant?

The situation is deteriorating. I think that’s the only fair way to describe it. You can forget words like “stable,” or “under control.” It’s not. Every day brings a new risk of disaster, whether it’s an aftershock that threatens to open up a crack in the containment vessels; or it’s the water that’s being streamed in, that could distort the fuel rods; or it’s the leakage of this now-radioactive water into the ocean; or the fire that breaks out at the plant. Every day brings a new mini-crisis that could tip one or more of these reactors into meltdown. That’s where we’re at.

You have to understand that these reactors have been subjected to far more stress than they were ever designed to handle. And the stress continues. There have been hundreds of aftershocks. Just this week, there was a 6.6 quake. There are new predictions that the aftershocks could go on for some time, and be as powerful as a major earthquake. And, what [emergency workers] are doing is not in any safety manual. There isn’t any Plan B that says, “Bring fire trucks to the beach and pump salt-water into the reactors,” or “Rent giant concrete pumps and use them to spray water into the reactor.”

Would you say, right now, there’s as big a risk of meltdown as there has been during this entire ordeal?

Yes. They’ve been struggling to keep the fuel rods covered with water. And they partially succeeded. Still, it’s likely that all three reactors have suffered at least partial meltdowns. But we don’t know for sure what’s going on. You can’t open the door and look in. It doesn’t work that way.

At this point, what do you think is the most likely scenario for how this situation will resolve itself?

I believe the most likely scenario is one or more meltdowns. I hope I’m wrong. But I think this is just beyond the capability of anyone to control.

National Academies of Science: Low levels of ionizing radiation likely to cause harm

April 13, 2011 at 10:48 am By Roz Potter

Link Excerpt from the National Academies press release:

WASHINGTON — A preponderance of scientific evidence shows that even low doses of ionizing radiation, such as gamma rays and X-rays, are likely to pose some risk of adverse health effects, says a new report from the National Academies’ National Research Council.

The report’s focus is low-dose, low-LET — “linear energy transfer” — ionizing radiation that is energetic enough to break biomolecular bonds. In living organisms, such radiation can cause DNA damage that eventually leads to cancers. However, more research is needed to determine whether low doses of radiation may also cause other health problems, such as heart disease and stroke, which are now seen with high doses of low-LET radiation.

The study committee defined low doses as those ranging from nearly zero to about 100 millisievert (mSv) — units that measure radiation energy deposited in living tissue. The radiation dose from a chest X-ray is about 0.1 mSv. In the United States, people are exposed on average to about 3 mSv of natural “background” radiation annually.

The committee’s report develops the most up-to-date and comprehensive risk estimates for cancer and other health effects from exposure to low-level ionizing radiation. In general, the report supports previously reported risk estimates for solid cancer and leukemia, but the availability of new and more extensive data have strengthened confidence in these estimates.

Specifically, the committee’s thorough review of available biological and biophysical data supports a “linear, no-threshold” (LNT) risk model, which says that the smallest dose of low-level ionizing radiation has the potential to cause an increase in health risks to humans. In the past, some researchers have argued that the LNT model exaggerates adverse health effects, while others have said that it underestimates the harm. The preponderance of evidence supports the LNT model, this new report says.

“The scientific research base shows that there is no threshold of exposure below which low levels of ionizing radiation can be demonstrated to be harmless or beneficial,” said committee chair Richard R. Monson, associate dean for professional education and professor of epidemiology, Harvard School of Public Health, Boston. “The health risks – particularly the development of solid cancers in organs – rise proportionally with exposure. At low doses of radiation, the risk of inducing solid cancers is very small. As the overall lifetime exposure increases, so does the risk.” The report is the seventh in a series on the biological effects of ionizing radiation.

Nuclear contamination of food, soil and water

April 13, 2011 at 1:14 am By Roz Potter

From the International Atomic Energy Agency. This document details how radioactive contamination of plants, water and animals occurs. It also provides information about ways to minimize ingestion.


The second reference is from a blogger who has some deep knowledge and good ideas about how to minimize exposure to radioactive particles in soil, food and water.


Please remember that there is a continual source of radioactivity entering the atmosphere and being deposited around the planet, from Fukushima.  This is in addition to background sources. There is no known safe level of exposure to radiation, and low-level exposures still have the potential to cause harm, particularly if they persist over a long period of time. Radiation is damaging. Efforts should be made to minimize exposure.

French lab finds food from Japan highly contaminated with radioactivity 100 km from Fukushima

April 12, 2011 at 11:10 pm By Roz Potter

Link From Beyond Nuclear. Excerpt:

A leading French radiological laboratory that was formed after the 1986 Chernobyl explosion, disagrees with the Japanese assessment that the radioactive contamination of food presents “no risk” and also that the samples were taken from close to the Fukushima plant.

The Commission for Independent Information and Research on Radioactivity, known as CRIIRAD, is reporting that radioactive contamination of spinach and milk sampled as far away as 100 kilometers from Fukushima are at dangerously high levels and these items should not be consumed.

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