More Japan Radiation Detected in U.S. Drinking Water, Milk

Radiation from the Japan nuclear crisis continues to make its way to the U.S. According to recent media reports, <"">radioactive material that likely originated from the damaged Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant was detected in milk in Arkansas, Arizona, and Vermont, as well as in drinking water in several U.S. cities.

The Fukushima Daiichi plant was damaged by a massive earthquake and tsunami that hit Japan on March 11. Several reactors there have been leaking radiation ever since. Concerns about radiation from Japan have prompted the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA) to halt the import of produce and dairy products from areas of Japan near the damaged reactors, and is screening seafood and other products imported from that country. Less than 4 percent of the food imported into the U.S. comes from Japan. According to the FDA, the most common Japanese imports include seafood, snack foods and processed fruits and vegetables.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has also stepped up monitoring of radiation in air and water here. As we’ve reported previously, trace amounts of radiation from Japan have been detected in air and rainwater in several U.S. states including Alaska, Alabama, California, Hawaii, Idaho, Nevada, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Vermont, South Carolina, and Washington. Traces of radioactive iodine-131 also turned up in samples of milk in Spokane, Washington and San Luis Obispo County, California.

Now, the EPA has detected the radioactive material iodine -131 in drinking water samples from 13 more U.S. cities. These include: Oakridge, TN; Chattanooga, TN; Helena, MT; Columbia, PA; Cincinnati, OH; Pittsburgh, PA; East Liverpool, OH; Painesville, OH; Denver, CO; Detroit, MI; Trenton, NJ; Wareton, NJ; and Muscle Shoals, AL. In all of these cities, the levels of iodine-131 detected were below 1 picocuries per liter. The EPA’s maximum contaminant level for Iodine-131 in drinking water is 3 picocuries per liter.

Iodine-131 was also detected in milk samples taken in several states. The highest levels were detected in Little Rock, Arkansas, where a milk sample contained 8.9 picocuries per liter. However, the EPA said it does not consider the milk dangerous because the maximum contaminant level is set for long-term exposure, and the iodine-131 from Japan nuclear crisis is expected to be temporary and deteriorate rapidly.

Milk samples from Phoenix, Arizona and Los Angeles, California, contained iodine-131 at levels roughly equal to the maximum contaminant level permitted by EPA.

According to the Agency for Toxic Substances & Disease Registry, iodine is a naturally occurring element that is required for good health. Exposure to high levels of stable or radioactive iodine can cause damage to the thyroid, including thyroid cancer.

Cesium-137 was also detected in milk taken from a cow in Montpelier, Vermont. The levels of cesium-137 were measured at 1.9 picocuries per liter, below the EPA’s maximum containment level of 3. It marks the first time since the start of the crises that cesium-137 was found in U.S. milk.

Cesium-137 accumulates in the body’s soft tissues, where it increases risk of cancer, according to EPA.

Meanwhile, workers in Japan continue to work to cool down the damaged reactors at the Fukushima Daiichi facility and stop radiation leaking from the plant. But according to a report in the Associated Press, even when that is finally accomplished, it will be years before the crisis comes to an end. Toshiba Corp., which supplied four of Fukushima’s six reactors, submitted a study over the weekend which projects that it would take about 10 years to remove the fuel rods and the reactors and contain other radioactivity at the sites.

That’s apparently the best-case scenario. A lot depends on exactly how long it takes to stabilize and cool the reactors. The extent of damage to the reactors and other problems still need to be assessed, the Associated Press said.

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