Uncommon knowledge, news, and opinion

Uncommon knowledge, news, and opinion

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Imported seafood anyone? U.S. testing is grossly inadequate

November 19, 2011 at 1:42 pm By Roz Potter

From a study from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, Link


Only 2 percent of all seafood imported into the U.S. is tested for contamination, while the European Union, Japan and Canada inspect as much as 50 percent, 18 percent, and 15 percent of certain imported seafood products. When testing in the U.S. does occur, residues of drugs used in aquaculture, or “fish farms,” are sometimes found; above certain concentrations, these drugs are harmful to humans.


David Love, PhD, lead author of the study, and colleagues at the Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future, acquired data on seafood inspection programs from governmental websites and from direct queries to governmental bodies.


Love and colleagues’ results showed that the FDA tests for 13 types of drug residues, in contrast to inspection agencies in Europe and Japan that test for 34 and 27 drugs, respectively. This discrepancy suggests that seafood producers can use many drugs for which the U.S. does not screen.


Imports to the U.S., E.U., Canada and Japan with the highest frequency of drug violations were shrimp or prawns, eel, crabs, catfish or pangasius, tilapia and salmon. Vietnam, China, Thailand, Indonesia, Taiwan, India, and Malaysia were identified as the exporters to the U.S., E.U., Canada and Japan with the most drug violations.


“Imported seafood may carry risks in terms of food safety because the FDA does not have the resources to proactively and regularly inspect foreign facilities, and it relies on product testing as a last resort,” said Love. To minimize the risks of seafood imports and to raise U.S. testing standards to match those of other countries, the authors recommend that the FDA budget be expanded to allow for more exhaustive testing and hiring of more inspectors.

To read more,  Link

Dead from eating cantaloupe? What gives?

September 29, 2011 at 8:03 pm By Roz Potter

From Maryn McKenna’s blog on Wired.com:  Link

We refrigerate food so we don’t get sick. But in the case of the bacterium Listeria monocytogenes, refrigeration doesn’t help because unlike most other bacteria, Listeria reproduces well in cold temperatures.


An outbreak of foodborne illness that appears to be spread by fresh cantaloupes has sickened 72 people so far, in 18 states, and 13 have died. According to investigators, the source of the contamination has not yet been found. And also, according to a media briefing today, the contaminated cantaloupes were also shipped overseas, to countries that investigators would not identify.

And, as an extra bonus, the tally of cases and deaths is likely to keep rising, because the particular illness in this outbreak has an incubation period of up to two months

The outbreak, which has been building for several weeks, involves melons from a single grower in Granada, Colo. called Jensen Farms. The first cases occurred at the beginning of August and authorities began to be concerned when the outbreak crossed state lines in early September. On Sept. 14, the growers did the right thing and launched a recall of all the whole cantaloupes they shipped between July 29 and Sept. 10. To their knowledge, they had sold cantaloupes to wholesalers and distributors in 17 25 states.

At this point, I can practically hear foodborne-disease geeks — as well as almost anyone who has taken a tropical vacation — thinking to themselves: “Wait. Weren’t we told it’s safe to eat fruit if it has a rind and you don’t eat the rind? You don’t eat cantaloupe rind. What gives?” And that’s correct, generally.

The advice you get, if you want to eat anything raw that might have been contaminated, is to choose something with a peel, wash it, and then peel it yourself. But there’s an aspect of melon that makes this problematic: Unlike a banana, you don’t peel a melon with your fingers. You slice it, and the knife blade can carry any organisms on the outside of the melon into the flesh.

USDA: Disaster food safety tips

August 27, 2011 at 1:57 pm By Roz Potter

From the USDA.  Important information to help you stay healthy in the aftermath of disaster.  These tips will minimize the potential for foodborne illnesses in the event of power outages, supply chain disruptions, flooding, and other problems that could be associated with disasters. Link


Steps to follow to prepare for a possible weather emergency:

  • Keep an appliance thermometer in the refrigerator and freezer. An appliance thermometer will indicate the temperature inside the refrigerator and freezer in case of a power outage and help determine the safety of the food.
  • Make sure the freezer is at 0°F or below and the refrigerator is at 40°F or below.
  • Freeze containers of water for ice to help keep food cold in the freezer, refrigerator or coolers after the power is out.
  • Freeze refrigerated items such as leftovers, milk and fresh meat and poultry that you may not need immediately — this helps keep them at a safe temperature longer.
  • Plan ahead and know where dry ice and block ice can be purchased.
  • Have coolers on hand to keep refrigerator food cold if the power will be out for more than 4 hours. Purchase or make ice and store in the freezer for use in the refrigerator or in a cooler. Freeze gel packs ahead of time for use in coolers.
  • Group food together in the freezer — this helps the food stay cold longer.
  • Store food on shelves that will be safely out of the way of contaminated water in case of flooding.

Steps to follow after the weather emergency:

  • Keep the refrigerator and freezer doors closed as much as possible to maintain the cold temperature.
  • The refrigerator will keep food safely cold for about 4 hours if it is unopened. A full freezer will hold the temperature for approximately 48 hours (24 hours if it is half full) and the door remains closed.
  • Discard refrigerated perishable food such as meat, poultry, fish, soft cheeses, milk, eggs, leftovers and deli items after 4 hours without power.
  • Food may be safely refrozen if it still contains ice crystals or is at 40°F or below when checked with a food thermometer.
  • Never taste a food to determine its safety!
  • Obtain dry or block ice to keep your refrigerator and freezer as cold as possible if the power is going to be out for a prolonged period of time. Fifty pounds of dry ice should hold an 18-cubic-foot full freezer for 2 days.
  • If the power has been out for several days, check the temperature of the freezer with an appliance thermometer. If the appliance thermometer reads 40°F or below, the food is safe to refreeze.
  • If a thermometer has not been kept in the freezer, check each package of food to determine its safety. If the food still contains ice crystals, the food is safe.
  • Discard any food that is not in a waterproof container if there is any chance that it has come into contact with flood water. Discard wooden cutting boards, plastic utensils, baby bottle nipples and pacifiers.
  • Thoroughly wash all metal pans, ceramic dishes and utensils that came in contact with flood water with hot soapy water and sanitize by boiling them in clean water or by immersing them for 15 minutes in a solution of 1 tablespoon of unscented, liquid chlorine bleach per gallon of drinking water.
  • Undamaged, commercially prepared foods in all-metal cans and retort pouches (for example, flexible, shelf-stable juice or seafood pouches) can be saved. Follow the Steps to Salvage All-Metal Cans and Retort Pouches in the publication “Keeping Food Safe During an Emergency” at: www.fsis.usda.gov/Fact_Sheets/Keeping_Food_Safe_During_an_Emergency/index.asp
  • Use bottled water that has not been exposed to flood waters. If bottled water is not available, tap water can be boiled for safety.

When in Doubt, Throw it Out!

An FSIS Public Service Announcement (PSA), available in 30- and 60-second versions, illustrates practical food safety recommendations for handling and consuming foods stored in refrigerators and freezers during and after a power outage. Consumers are encouraged to view the PSA at: www.fsis.usda.gov/news/Food_Safety_PSA .

News organizations and power companies can obtain hard copy (Beta and DVD) versions of the PSA by contacting the Food Safety Education Staff in FSIS’ Office of Public Affairs and Consumer Education by calling (301) 344-4757.

FSIS’s YouTube channel, www.youtube.com/user/USDAFoodSafety , provides a video in English and Spanish titled “Food Safety During Power Outages.” The channel also includes the SignFSIS video in American Sign Language titled “Food Safety During a Power Outage.” Food Safety at Home podcasts regarding food safety during severe weather, power outages, and flooding are available on the FSIS website in English and Spanish at www.fsis.usda.gov/News_&_Events/Food_Safety_at_Home_Podcasts/index.asp .

Consumers with food safety questions can “Ask Karen,” the FSIS virtual representative available 24 hours a day at www.AskKaren.gov . “Ask Karen” live chat services are available Monday through Friday, 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. ET. The toll-free USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline 1-888-MPHotline (1-888-674-6854) is available in English and Spanish and can be reached from l0 a.m. to 4 p.m. ET Monday through Friday. Recorded food safety messages are available 24 hours a day. Podcasts and SignFSIS videos in American Sign Language featuring text-captioning are available online at

Radioactive contamination and testing of meat and milk

July 25, 2011 at 1:09 am By Roz Potter

This information is from the IAEA and FAO (International Atomic Energy Agency and the Food and Agricultural Agency of the United Nations). A future post from the same source will focus on the effects of radioactive contamination on soil and crops.  Link


Reports from the Government of Japan indicate that several radionuclides of consequence to human health have been found in the soil, vegetation and in animals, or their products. These include Iodine-131 and Caesium-137 that have both been found in the soil, in milk and in leaf vegetables such as spring onions and spinach.

Some of the samples have been reported to be above the levels allowed by the Japanese food hygiene law for emergency monitoring criteria for intake of vegetables.

Where these radionuclides have contaminated grazing land, milk from livestock is affected, so it is possible that any beef cattle will begin to show radionuclides in the muscle tissues.


Caesium-137 spreads readily in the environment in soil, water and in the air. It can be ingested or inhaled and locates in muscle tissue, bones and fat. It has a half-life of 30 years and is extremely toxic.

Iodine-131 is a volatile radionuclide that emits beta and gamma rays and combines easily with organic materials and soil minerals. Water, grass, vegetables and animal fodder become contaminated. The half-life is 8 days, but in the thyroid it can last for 100 days potentially causing malignant tumors.


Sampling for measurement of radioactivity

Various procedures can be used for monitoring levels of radionuclides in milk and meat, and although there are no standardized methods it is essential that surveys take into account all aspects of contamination in relation to the environment, likely exposure, the animal species and their foraging habits. The following list indicates some of the procedures used to monitor animals exposed to radiation.

Live animals – cattle, sheep, goat, poultry

  • Live sampling with a hand held, battery operated monitor e.g. Canberra 10, calibrated for use with live sheep (as used in UK, Norway etc.). For cattle – place monitor on hindquarters for one minute. Small birds can be monitored by whole body measurement.


  • Meat – slaughter animals – samples 1.5×1.5×1.5 cm taken from muscle of two legs. Measurements of muscle samples from different parts of the same animal does not differ by more than 10%
  • Fresh meat samples from cattle of 20 – 100g
  • Fresh muscle samples of 20 – 25g from wild deer
  • Samples of 250 – 500g lean caribou meat collected and air dried in the sun, or by infra-red before analysis
  • Muscle sample from wild boar of at least 500g; samples frozen after collection


  • Milk – bulk milk samples collected daily to average out physiological differences in the dietary habits of individual cows
  • In affected and sensitive areas – daily monitoring of milk for Sr-90/Cs-137/I-131
  • In areas at risk but not contaminated – sample as often as possible, but not less than 14 day intervals

Mitigating the effects of radionuclide contamination

Radioactive Contamination and Animal Production and Health Contamination can be mitigated by taking measures to the transfer of radioactive pollutants. It is important to reduce exposure wherever possible, especially in the immediate aftermath of contamination, i.e. by bringing livestock in from pasture and confining them to pens to prevent their grazing on contaminated pasture.

Animals should be fed with uncontaminated feed as soon as possible. Changing land use is effective in reducing transfer to man. A switch from milk production to beef or pigs can reduce radionuclide transfer by 5-fold.

To reduce radiocaesium in milk, cattle can be supplied with a caesium-binding compound such as ammonium ferric cyanoferrate (or AFCF, “Prussian Blue”) as a bolus into the rumen, in compounded concentrate feed, in salt licks, or simply sprinkled on the diet. AFCF reacts with consumed radiocaesium in the intestine to form a complex that is eliminated in the faeces.

In the case of meat-producing animals, moving to uncontaminated pastures and feeding uncontaminated feed may only be necessary close to the time of slaughter since the biological half-life of radiocaesium, for example, is of the order of two to four weeks depending on the species. In the case of wild boar meat, brining in sodium chloride and potassium nitrate can reduce caesium-137 levels by >70%.

Radioactive Contamination and Animal Production and Health The most salutary lesson learned in the past 25 years has been the need for the regulatory authorities in countries affected by contamination to take a much broader view of the environmental consequences and adopt a more holistic approach in addressing the situation.

Thus, the international scientific community has a more fundamental understanding and greater insight into the way in which different ecosystems are affected by nuclear contamination, which will provide the basis for predicting the risk to, and likely impact on, agriculture in the Fukushima incident.

More radioactive cesium contamination of Japan’s food supply

July 24, 2011 at 9:24 pm By Roz Potter

From Bloomberg News: Link


More than 2,600 cattle have been contaminated, Kyodo News reported July 23, after the Miyagi prefectural government said 1,183 cattle at 58 farms were fed the tainted hay before being shipped to meat markets.

Coming after the government banned cattle shipments from Fukushima on July 19, the latest discoveries signal efforts so far haven’t been sufficient to protect Japan’s food chain.


No Testing System

Japan has no centralized system to check for radiation contamination of food. Prefectural authorities in cooperation with local farmers conduct voluntary tests. Products including spinach, mushrooms, bamboo shoots, tea, milk, plums and fish have been found contaminated with cesium and iodine as far as 360 kilometers from Dai-Ichi.


Prolonged exposure to radiation in the air, ground and food can cause leukemia and other cancers, according to the London- based World Nuclear Association.

A growing concern is that the release of radiation into waters near the Fukushima plant may multiply through the seafood chain.

Levels of cesium-134 in seawater near the Fukushima plant’s No. 3 reactor rose to levels 30 times the allowed safety standards last week, according to tests performed by Tokyo Electric Power Co, national broadcaster NHK reported.

Beef contaminated with radioactive cesium enters Japan’s food supply

July 18, 2011 at 5:40 pm By Roz Potter

From the Daily Yomiuri, Japan Link


Officials of the Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Ministry have admitted they did not consider the possibility of cattle ingesting straw contaminated by radioactive substances emitted from the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant.

“This is nothing less than a colossal blunder by our ministry. It was beyond our expectations that straw would become a source of radioactive contamination,” a ministry official said.

A total of 143 beef cattle suspected of being contaminated with radioactive cesium after ingesting straw that was stored outdoors have been shipped from Fukushima Prefecture and distributed to wholesalers, retailers and consumers in various prefectures.

Editor’s note: The importance of this contamination source should not be underestimated.  Beef is just one food source. The amount and variety of  foods and drinks potentially contaminated by radioactivity could add up to a large amount of internal radiation exposure over time, as an unsuspecting public ingests a variety of foods and drinks contaminated by radioactivity.

Food supply contamination from radiation: radioactive cesium found in green tea 355 km (220 miles) from Fukushima

June 12, 2011 at 4:43 pm By Roz Potter

From the Wall Street Journal:  Link , and a earlier related article in the UK Telegraph:  Link


TOKYO—Japan’s recent discovery of tea leaves contaminated with radioactive material far from the crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant has cast a spotlight on how the country tests for fallout from the accident—and has sparked a backlash from local officials and tea growers who say too-rigid scrutiny could unnecessarily harm sales of the iconic product.

The controversy erupted last week when Shizuoka prefecture, which produces more than 40% of the green tea consumed in Japan, announced that a sample of dry tea leaves from a producer about 355 kilometers from the nuclear plant contained 679 becquerels of radioactive cesium per kilogram. That level exceed the maximum allowable amount of 500 becquerels set just this month by the government.

The prefecture requested the leaves’ producer halt shipments and is now testing other samples from the same area.

The announcement follows concerns since the March 11 accident about contamination to other staples of the Japanese diet, from the prospect of fish poisoned by the heavy amounts of radioactive material dumped into the sea off the country’s northeastern coast, to produce laced with radioactive material in one of the nation’s historic farming areas.

The reports of tea contamination so far from the nuclear plant have sparked worries over the seemingly broadening scope of contamination three months after the accident. But it also fueled an argument from the tea-growing region and opposition lawmakers in the national parliament over whether Japan’s testing is giving consumers an unnecessarily escalated sense of danger.

To read more…  Link

NYT: When food kills – antibiotic overuse in animals and the emerging antibiotic resistant organisms that kill humans

June 12, 2011 at 11:13 am By Roz Potter

From the NYT:  Link


The deaths of 31 people in Europe from a little-known strain of E. coli have raised alarms worldwide, but we shouldn’t be surprised. Our food often betrays us. (editor’s note: in Europe, more than 3283 people have confirmed cases and at least 100 of these need kidney transplants, due to severe damage to their kidneys from the Shiga toxin-producing bacteria. Many more who have been sickened are not in the official count, for a variety of reasons).

Just a few days ago, a 2-year-old girl in Dryden, Va., died in a hospital after suffering bloody diarrhea linked to another strain of E. coli. Her brother was also hospitalized but survived.

Every year in the United States, 325,000 people are hospitalized because of food-borne illnesses and 5,000 die, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That’s right: food kills one person every two hours.

Yet while the terrorist attacks of 2001 led us to transform the way we approach national security, the deaths of almost twice as many people annually have still not generated basic food-safety initiatives. We have an industrial farming system that is a marvel for producing cheap food, but its lobbyists block initiatives to make food safer.

Perhaps the most disgraceful aspect of our agricultural system — I say this as an Oregon farmboy who once raised sheep, cattle and hogs — is the way antibiotics are recklessly stuffed into healthy animals to make them grow faster.

The Food and Drug Administration reported recently that 80 percent of antibiotics in the United States go to livestock, not humans. And 90 percent of the livestock antibiotics are administered in their food or water, typically to healthy animals to keep them from getting sick when they are confined in squalid and crowded conditions.

The single state of North Carolina uses more antibiotics for livestock than the entire United States uses for humans.

This cavalier use of low-level antibiotics creates a perfect breeding ground for antibiotic-resistant pathogens. The upshot is that ailments can become pretty much untreatable.

Is U.S. vulnerable to E. coli outbreak like Europe’s?

June 9, 2011 at 9:36 am By Roz Potter

From the NPR health blog, Shots:  Link


Dr. Christopher Braden, the chief of food- and waterborne diseases at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, doesn’t expect the Escherichia coli bug causing serious illness in northern Europe to leapfrog the Atlantic anytime soon.

Still, Braden tells Shots, “I am concerned about something similar that could happen in the United States.”

That’s because the U.S. already sees “quite a few infections every year” from Shiga-toxin-producing E. coli. That’s the dangerous kind that can destroy blood cells, clog arteries, cause intestinal bleeding and lead to kidney failure and death.


Officials estimate that at least 100,000 Americans suffer E. coli infections from toxin-producing organisms every year, sending thousands to the hospital and killing about 80 people. That’s a much bigger toll than the current German-centered outbreak — more than 2,400 cases, including more than 600 cases of kidney failure, and 23 deaths. But most cases occur one-by-one, not in big outbreaks.

There’s controversy over why the European bug is so bad.

Some experts think it’s not really more dangerous than earlier strains. It’s just that more people got exposed to it, or perhaps there was an unusually high level of contamination on whatever foods affected people ate.

Another hypothesis: Perhaps some of the most seriously ill cases were treated with antibiotics. Paradoxically, some think that can make matters worse. Some say that’s because more toxin is released from the E. coli that are killed off. Others think, in the case of a highly antibiotic-resistant bug like O104:H4, antibiotics kill off other intestinal flora but not the E. coli, leaving them a clear field.

University of Wisconsin infectious disease specialist Dr. Dennis Maki dismisses these theories. He has treated lots of people with bad E. coli infections over the years, and he says this one is clearly different.

Earlier strains were far less likely to put victims in the hospital with severe anemia and kidney failure, Braden says, with “rarely over 10 percent” of patients affected.

By contrast, Maki notes the European strain is hospitalizing about a third of its victims. “That’s extraordinary,” he tells Shots. “This is an extraordinarily virulent strain of E. coli. I think that’s becoming clear.”

Maki predicts that “we will see U.S. cases” of the European bug as it gets carried back to North America by travelers. “We could have a big outbreak with this strain in a year or two or three,” he says. “It’s not out of the question at all.”

Osterholm agrees that the bug will get around. “Are there going to be more outbreaks like we see in Germany right now occurring around the world?” he says. “I bet you there will be.”

That’s why experts want to learn everything they can about the European bug – how it got there, why it’s so deadly, and above all, how it gets into food.


“For a number of years, almost all of the strains of this kind of E. coli were that O157:H7,” says Michael Osterholm, director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota. “Over the past 15 years, we’ve seen a very sizable increase in the number of non-O157:H7 strains.”

That’s thought to be due in large part to improvements food safety aimed at detecting and eliminating O157 strains from the food supply. But that has opened a path for other types of toxin-producing strains — of which there are hundreds.

It’s unclear how many of these non-O157 strains are involved in U.S. food-borne infections because they’re harder to test for. “But when we do studies looking for them, they make up well over half of all the hemorrhagic E. coli illnesses out there,” Osterholm tells Shots. “And we think that number is actually increasing, not decreasing.”

To read the full article, Link

There is no safe exposure to radiation: Bulletin of Atomic Scientists

May 2, 2011 at 7:11 pm By Roz Potter

The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists was established in 1945 by scientists, engineers, and other experts who had created the atomic bomb as part of the Manhattan Project. They knew about the horrible effects of these new weapons and devoted themselves to warning the public about the consequences of using them.

An article written 4/26/11 by Dr. Jeffrey Patterson provides a novel viewpoint from which to evaluate the ongoing debate about the effects of Fukushima.  That “radiation released by the mining and processing of nuclear fuel, the testing and use of nuclear weapons, and the “controlled and catastrophic releases of long-lived radionuclides by the nuclear power industry”"  is quite a different issue than exposures from background sources from the universe, the sun, the earth, and radio, television, small appliances and other background sources.

This is “because the effects of these releases will continue for many years but will likely remain hidden or unknown”.

Meanwhile, “an unsuspecting and unknowing public is being randomly exposed to radiation without any opportunity for informed consent. People can choose whether or not to have x-rays, to reduce the radon exposure in their homes, or to fly. However, the public has no choice, and certainly inadequate knowledge, about radiation exposure from nuclear power and nuclear weapons.

The real issue is that the use of nuclear power and nuclear weapons is forcing humankind, and indeed the whole ecosystem, to participate in a particularly cruel and totally uncontrolled experiment. Given the scientific evidence that there is no safe dose of radiation, this is an experiment that has already gone awry. Indeed, if this were a true scientific experiment, it would have been halted a long time ago.”

Link. More excerpts follow:

There are some basic principles to consider when the impacts of radiation exposure are evaluated. First, there is no “safe” or non–harmful level of radiation.

Second, we are all exposed to radiation: background radiation emitted by natural sources, with which we evolved; and medical radiation, which may be necessary and life-saving as decided and controlled by the patient and physician.

Finally, there is another form of exposure that has been thrust upon the world since the advent of the nuclear age: radiation released by the mining and processing of nuclear fuel, the testing and use of nuclear weapons, and the “controlled” and catastrophic releases of long-lived radionuclides by the nuclear power industry.

This is quite a different issue, because the effects of these releases will continue for many years but will likely remain hidden or unknown.

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?

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.

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.


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.

Guide to radiation dose and limits

March 21, 2011 at 3:33 pm By Roz Potter

The Idaho Department of Environmental Quality has an informative chart on its website , that will give readers an idea of the average amount of radiation absorbed each year from food, water, natural gas powered stoves and heaters, medical x-rays and nuclear medicine procedures, proximity to nuclear power or coal fired power plants, smoking, flying in an airplane, and other sources.

There is several other nifty charts on the website including a personal yearly dose calculator.

These sources do provide welcome perspective.

CBS news: Credible terrorist plot to poison restaurant and hotel food

December 22, 2010 at 12:02 am By Roz Potter

The Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota cites a 12/20/10  CBS news report that says federal officials warned executives in the hotel and restaurant industries that terrorists might try to poison food with ricin and sodium cyanide.

Snip: The plot, uncovered earlier this year, called for putting the two poisons in salad bars and buffets at many locations on one weekend, the story said.

Here’s the original CBS story. http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2010/12/20/eveningnews/main7169266.shtml

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