Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Radioactive Postcards from Japan

"Genetic heritage is the most precious property for human beings. It determines the lives of our progeny, health and harmonious development of future generations. As experts, we affirm that the health of future generations is threatened by increasing development of the atomic industry and sources of radiation… We also believe that new mutations that occur in humans are harmful to them and their offspring."—World Health Organization, 1956, before they signed an agreement with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) on May 28, 1959, at the 12th World Health Assembly, not to issue statements on health and radioactivity without that IAEA’s approval.

Godzilla was borne of radiation; so was the IAEA.
When the nuclear plants in Japan began melting down and spewing out radiation, did you heave a sigh of relief that it was happening on the other side of the world and not in your own backyard? Think again. The weather patterns take the fallout from Japan across the Pacific and over the United States. Have you been reassured by news reports that by the time the radiation reaches our shores it is too dissipated to affect us? Really?

The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) continues to release new data showing that various milk and water supply samples from across the US are testing increasingly high for radioactive elements such as Iodine-131, Cesium-134, and Cesium-137, all of which are being emitted from the ongoing Fukushima Daiichia nuclear fallout. According to, as of April 10, 2011, 23 US water supplies (including some in New York, Pennsylvania and New Jersey) have tested positive for radioactive Iodine-131, and milk samples from at least three US locations have tested positive for Iodine-131 at levels exceeding EPA maximum containment levels (MCL).

But before going into details on this, let’s talk about radiation.

"There is no safe level of radionuclide exposure, whether from food, water or other sources. Period. Exposure to radionuclides, such as Iodine-131 and Cesium-137, increases the incidence of cancer. For this reason, every effort must be taken to minimize the radionuclide content in food and water."—Jeff Patterson, DO, former President of Physicians for Social Responsibility

External radiation that we are exposed to includes everything from radiation leaking from the Japanese nuclear reactors to normal background radiation from space. It is external because it is outside of us. And as long as it remains outside of us, all is well. However, when it gets inside of us, it is called internal radiation and that is an entirely different story.

Internal radiation comes from radioactive elements that enter the body through inhalation, ingestion or skin absorption. Hazardous radionuclides such as Iodine-131, Cesium 137, and other isotopes currently being released into the sea and air around Fukushima increasingly concentrate along each step of various food chains (for example into algae, crustaceans, small fish, bigger fish, then humans; or soil, grass, cow's meat and milk, then humans). After they enter the body, these elements—called internal emitters—migrate to specific organs such as the thyroid, liver, bone and brain, where they continuously irradiate small numbers of cells with high doses of alpha, beta and/or gamma radiation. Over many years, they can induce uncontrolled cell growth, better known as cancer. Many of the nuclides remain radioactive in the environment for generations, contributing to increased incidences of cancer and genetic diseases over time. That's right, we're talking grandchildren here.

For instance, the Chernobyl nuclear disaster occurred in 1986. The World Health Organization in 2005 issued a report attributing only 43 human deaths directly to the Chernobyl disaster and estimating an additional 4,000 fatal cancers. I guess they are still honoring their agreement with the International Atomic Energy Agency. In contrast, the 2009 report, Chernobyl: Consequences of the Catastrophe for People and the Environment, published by the New York Academy of Sciences, comes to a very different conclusion. The three scientist authors, Alexey V. Yablokov, Vassily B. Nesterenko and Alexey V. Nesterenko compiled and translated hundreds of scientific articles on the effects of the Chernobyl disaster that appeared in Slavic language publications over the past 20 years. They estimate the number of deaths attributable to the Chernobyl meltdown at about 980,000. Somehow I missed that shocking statistic when it was announced as lead story on every news station in the US back in 2009—or was it?

"Against this background of such persuasive data some defenders of atomic energy look specious as they deny the obvious negative effects of radiation upon populations. In fact, their reactions include almost complete refusal to fund medical and biological studies, even liquidating government bodies that were in charge of the 'affairs of Chernobyl'. Under pressure from the nuclear lobby, officials have also diverted scientific personnel away from studying the problems caused by Chernobyl."—Professor Dimitro Godzinksy, Ukrainian National Academy of Sciences

The grave effects of those internal emitters, mentioned earlier, are of great concern at Fukushima. It is inaccurate and misleading to use the term "acceptable levels of external radiation" in assessing internal radiation exposures. Confusing the terms "external" and "internal," in terms of radiation, floods the news media with dangerous misinformation at a time when the public worldwide is seeking the truth about radiation's hazards. So let’s talk about that truth on a local level.

When it comes to water supplies, the EPA is only testing for radioactive Iodine-131. There are no readings or data available for cesium, uranium, or plutonium—all of which are being continuously emitted from Fukushima—even though these elements are all much more deadly than Iodine-131. However, we can only work with what they have collected, so I have presented what we know in the below Radiation in the US Water Supply chart.

Water is not the only problem. New EPA data just released on Sunday shows that at least three different milk samples from various parts of the US have tested positive for radioactive Iodine-131 at levels that exceed the EPA maximum thresholds for safety, which is currently set at 3.0 pico Curies per Liter (pCi/l).

In Phoenix, Arizona, a milk sample taken on March 28, 2011, tested at 3.2 pCi/l. In Little Rock, Arkansas, a milk sample taken on March 30, 2011, tested at 8.9 pCi/l, which is almost three times the EPA limit. And, not surprisingly, in Hilo, Hawaii, a milk sample collected on April 4, 2011, tested at 18 pCi/l, a level six times the EPA maximum safety threshold. The same Hawaii sample also tested at 19 pCi/l for Cesium-137, which has a half life of 30 years, and 24 pCi/l for Cesium-134, which has a half life of just over two years.

Why is milk contamination significant? After all, not everyone drinks milk, anyway. Milk is considered a gauge of the overall condition of the food chain because cows consume grass and are exposed to the same elements as food crops and water supplies. So when cows' milk starts testing positive for high levels of radioactive elements, this is indicative of radioactive contamination of the entire food supply.

Radiation continues to leak from the Japanese nuclear plants, and those who advocate atomic energy interests will do their level best to silence or discredit any information that sounds negative about this energy source. Of course, we all know that our standard of living requires a never-ending supply of energy and it has to come from somewhere. That's on the assumption they we keep on living, business as usual.

What if... we began to question the real price we are paying to live in unsustainable homes with energy-devouring lifestyles? What if... we decided that as an investment in the future health of our families, it was essential to start lobbying for ways to decrease our need for the energy supplies that threaten our health and our national security? What if... everyone, on a grassroots level, began demanding affordable zero-energy homes, good public transportation and a fundamental rethinking of our consumption-based economy? If the late John Lennon could imagine a better world, then why not the rest of us?

"The rejection of consumerism arises out of the belief that the meaning of life does not and cannot consist in the consumption and accumulation of material things. The affirmation of simplicity arises out of the recognition that very little is needed to live wellthat abundance is a state of mind, not a quantity of consumer products."—Samuel Alexander, lecturer, Melbourne Law School, and leader of Voluntary Simplicity movement (see

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