The tightrope act between informing the American public about radiation risks while at the same time reassuring everyone that the effects are minimal grows more difficult by the day. The message has gone from “don’t worry, but don’t drink rainwater” to the more ominous, “don’t worry, but now there’s radiation in the milk.”
We’ll have to wait to see what warning comes next. But there’s no doubt that public concern is on the rise, and we may reach a tipping point sooner than many think.
As for all the reassurances from public officials, I must take issue with the way they continue to mislead people – whether intentionally or not – in regard to the dangers of radiation exposure. For example, the California Department of Public Health, quoted in a CNN report, says that “…a pint of milk at these levels would expose an individual to less radiation than would a five-hour airplane flight.”
And also this from CNN: “When radioactive material is spread through the atmosphere, it drops to the ground and gets in the environment. When cows consume grass, hay, feed, and water, radioactivity will be processed and become part of the milk we drink. However, the amounts are so small they pose no threat to public health,” the department said.
The comparisons between internal and external exposure are misleading. Think of radiation as being akin to germs. Externally, like on your hands, germs are no big deal – your skin protects you. But once inside the body, it’s a different story entirely. Radiation can be thought of in a similar way. CAT scans and x-rays are examples of external exposure, but milk is going into the body, and internal exposure is much more dangerous. Plus, we know that contaminated milk is an early warning sign – it’s now virtually certain that radiation is working its way into vegetables and other food products.
The research is fairly solid on how much radiation can be ingested into the body with no health impact: The answer is none. There is no safe level of exposure. Period.
Health officials are not doing us any favors by ignoring that fact. Bio-accumulation is the process where one source, like a small contaminated fish, is consumed by another source, like a larger fish, and the radiation levels increase as the larger fish eats more and more smaller contaminated fish. The same is true of a milk cow eating contaminated grass. The more contaminated grass the cow eats, the more concentrated the radiation levels become in the milk that cow produces. It, of course, remains to be seen how much bio-accumulation occurs 5,000 miles away from a massive and ongoing radiation leak – or in the Japanese food system or, for that matter, in the Pacific Ocean.
Meanwhile, the EPA is increasing radiation monitoring yet again. Read the CNN story (see link below) and note that “…at least 15 states have reported radioisotopes from Japan’s crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant in air or water or both. No states have recommended that residents take potassium iodide, a salt that protects the thyroid gland from radioactive iodine.”
Here’s the CNN story: http://www.cnn.com/2011/HEALTH/03/31/radiation.us/index.html?hpt=T2
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