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Trace Amounts of Radiation Found In West-coast Milk

March 31, 2011

The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is increasing nationwide monitoring of radiation as very low levels of radiation in milk were reported from leaks at Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant, which was damaged by the huge tsunami and 9.0 quake on March 11.

On Wednesday, the EPA released a statement that is would increase monitoring of radiation in milk, precipitation, drinking water, and other outlets. Tracking radiation in those potential exposure routes by the EPA is already an established practice through an existing network of stations across the country, CNN reports.

Samples of milk from Spokane, Washington, and in San Luis Obispo County, California taken in the past week detected radioactive iodine at a level 5,000 times lower than the limit set by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), officials said.

The EPA released figures saying that the I-131 isotope lasts about eight days, so the level detected in milk products is expected to drop quickly. FDA senior scientist Patricia Hansen called the findings “miniscule” compared to what people experience every day.

The radiation in Spokane is tiny compared with levels a person receives watching television or taking a round trip cross-country flight, Hansen concluded.

Washington Gov. Chris Gregoire reassured the public by saying, “This morning I spoke with the chief advisers for both the EPA and the FDA and they confirmed that these levels are miniscule and are far below levels of public health concern, including for infants and children. According to them, a pint of milk at these levels would expose an individual to less radiation than would a five-hour airplane flight.”

Contaminated milk can be a concern after a radiation leak due to toxic levels of radioactive iodine that can be carried by rainwater and feed that is ingested by cows and taken up in their milk.

Thyroid cancers caused by contaminated milk was one of the biggest health issues after the nuclear accident in Chernobyl due to people near the plant drinking milk from local cows, Reuters reports.

Japanese officials asked farmers to keep cattle in barns as contaminated milk products were found spreading from Fukushima prefecture, north of Tokyo. Health officials restricted raw- milk shipments from Fukushima and neighboring Ibaraki prefecture after tainted products were found in random testing, Bloomberg reports.

Contaminated milk products and leafy vegetables from the northern portions of Japan were found in Tokyo and five regions to its north and east as of March 26, according to a statement on the Japanese health ministry’s website.

In the US, elevated levels of radiation in rainwater were reported in Pennsylvania and Massachusetts, according to the EPA. Radiation levels have been “very low,” pose no unexpected health concerns, according to the EPA website.

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