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Radiation in US rainwater likely from Japan

March 28, 2011

thejakartapost

 

Health officials said Sunday that one sample of Massachusetts rainwater has registered very low concentrations of radiation, most likely from the Japanese nuclear power plant damaged earlier this month by an earthquake and tsunami.

John Auerbach, the Massachusetts commissioner of public health, said that the radioactive isotope iodine-131 found in the sample – one of more than 100 that have been taken around the country – has a short life of only eight days. He said the drinking water supply in the state was unaffected and officials do not expect any health concerns.

Nevada, California, Hawaii, Colorado and Washington state have also reported tiny amounts of radiation from the Japan accident. Officials have said those levels presented no health risks.

The Massachusetts Department of Public Health said the in-state sample was taken in the past week, but they did not say where. The testing is part of a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency network that monitors for radioactivity.

State officials said similar testing was done in California, Pennsylvania, Washington state and other states, and showed comparable levels of I-131 in rain.

Energy and Environmental Affairs Secretary Richard K. Sullivan Jr. directed the Department of Environmental Protection to collect additional samples for testing from several water bodies across Massachusetts. Results will be available over the next several days.

In Nevada, extremely small amounts of the radioactive isotopes iodine-131 and xenon-133 reached a monitoring station by Las Vegas’ Atomic Testing Museum this week, said Ted Hartwell, manager of the Desert Research Institute’s Community Environmental Monitoring Program.

Hartwell said he is certain the isotopes came from Japan because they are not usually detected in Nevada. But he said the readings were far below levels that could pose any health risks.

“Unless you have an accident like this (in Japan) you wouldn’t expect to see this. No doubt it’s from Japan,” Hartwell told The Associated Press.

Nevada health officials have said they do not expect any risk to the state from Japanese radiation releases because of the distance the materials would have to travel.

“Any material released must travel 10,000 miles (16,000 kilometers) across the Pacific Ocean, during which time it will be dispersed and diluted in the atmosphere to levels that might eventually be detectable, but which will not present a health hazard nor require any protective actions,” said Eric Matus, radiation physicist for the Nevada State Health Division.

Scientists say they weren’t surprised that radioactive isotopes from Japan were detected in the Western states.

“They get caught up in the right wind pattern and they’ll move across the ocean,” said Jeff Daniels, an environmental scientist with Reno-based DRI.

Tiny amounts of the radioactive isotope cesium-137 were detected at a University of Nevada, Las Vegas laboratory between March 17 and 21, but haven’t been reported since then, Hartwell said.

The Desert Research Institute operates 29 stations that monitor the air for radioactivity around the Nevada National Security Site, formerly the Nevada Test Site, about 65 miles (105 kilometers) northwest of Las Vegas. The institute plans to release the results of testing at the other stations and post them online at http://cemp.dri.edu/ by late in the week, Hartwell said.

The vast majority of the monitoring stations are in Nevada, with four in Utah and one in California.

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