March 23, 2011

Tap Water Radiation And Food Fears In Tokyo

Fears about food and water safety in Tokyo are spilling into the general populace as small amounts of radiation continue to be released from the earthquake-stricken Fukushima nuclear power plant, the Associated Press (AP) reports.

Vegetables, raw milk, the water supply and seawater have shown an increase of radiation counts since the power plant was thrown into disarray nearly two weeks ago. US and Hong Kong officials announced a block on Japanese dairy and certain produce from the region.

The latest food data report showed increases in radioactivity levels in a range of vegetables. One locally grown leafy green called kukitachina measured 82 times the government's limit for radioactive cesium and 11 times the limit for iodine. This was measured 25 miles from the power plant.

Food safety fears spread Wednesday as Tokyo officials explained that tap water showed elevated levels iodine-131. "It is really scary. It is like a vicious negative spiral from the nuclear disaster," said Etsuko Nomura, a mother of two young children ages 2 and 5. "We have contaminated milk and vegetables, and now tap water in Tokyo, and I'm wondering what's next."

Radioactive iodine can be especially troublesome for small children and infants, which could suffer from thyroid cancer, experts say. Officials urged calm however, saying parents should stop giving tap water to babies, but if infants already had consumed small amounts, there should be no worry. No immediate health risk for older children or adults were conveyed.

"Even if you drink this water for one year, it will not affect people's health," Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano said.

Dr. Lim Sang-moo, director of nuclear medicine at the Korea Cancer Center Hospital in Seoul, explained that Tokyo residents shouldn't worry. Parents might want to be more cautious if they have a choice.

"Nobody wants to drink radioactive water," he said, but "it's not a medical problem but a psychosocial problem: The stress that people get from the radioactivity is more dangerous than the radioactivity itself, " Sang-moo asserted according to AP.

Public health radiologist at the University of Manchester in Britain, Richard Wakeford, blames the spike in radiation on a shift in winds from the nuclear plant toward Tokyo. Lower levels are predicted in coming days when normal wind shifts return.

Tokyo convenience stores saw a rush in sales of bottled water after the news broke. A supermarket clerk working in downtown Tokyo, Toru Kikutaka said water purchases were limited to two, two-liter bottles per person, however the store still sold out almost immediately. "I've never seen anything like this," he told AP.