As More U.S. States Detect Radiation, Feds and Industry Downplay Dangers


You can add Massachusetts to the growing number of states detecting radiation “most likely” from the nuclear disaster in Japan. According to the Associated Press, the Massachusetts Commissioner of Public Health, John Auerbach, is reporting that radioiodine-131 has been detected in rainwater. Predictably, Mr. Auerbach offered the standard “official” reassurances: The drinking water supply is unaffected and authorities do not expect any health concerns. That’s good, because – not unexpectedly – the term “radioactive rain” triggers public concern.

It’s interesting that the state Department of Public Health did not disclose where the sample was taken, only that the test was “…part of a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency network that monitors for radioactivity.” State officials said similar testing was done in California, Pennsylvania, Washington and other states, and showed comparable levels of I-131 in rainwater.

In a separate AP report, nuclear plant operators Progress Energy and Duke Energy in North Carolina and South Carolina Electric and Gas Co. have all detected radiation around their facilities. According to the AP piece: “Progress Energy says it picked up low levels of iodine-131, a radioactive byproduct of nuclear fission, at its nuclear plant in South Carolina and a Florida plant.”

It would appear the nuclear companies are trying to get out in front of this story. They know that soon enough all eyes will be on them to convince the public the industry is operating responsibly and safely.

Of course, all the official reassurance is based on the idea that low levels of radiation pose low-level risk to humans. But as we’ve addressed here before, that’s not always the case. We need to differentiate between external exposure (e.g., x-rays, CT scans) and internal exposure that comes from inhaling or ingesting radioactive material. The latter poses an immediate grave risk to human health. Inhaling one particle of plutonium will cause cancer.

It’s a frightening reality – one that the nuclear industry and our government have been slow to address.

The next phase of our radiation debate will be human health implications for these levels of radiation, and that debate is going to take place amid an increasingly skeptical and jittery public.

Here’s a report via Yahoo on the Massachusetts findings:

Here’s the AP report via HuffPo on energy companies getting out in front of the story:

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Stuart H. Smith is an attorney based in New Orleans fighting major oil companies and other polluters.
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