Canada’s Land of Milk and Strontium 90
In Seattle, it was reported that the air was so contaminated after the accident that people were breathing in five “hot” radioactive particles a day!
The fallout was found to come down heavily in the rain that is so frequent in this rain forest we call home. Initially Simon Fraser University, in British Columbia, detected Iodine 131 in the rainwater on Burnaby Mountain They also found it in the seaweed on the shores of North Vancouver
Eventually we learned that the Air Monitoring Stations on Vancouver Island had picked up Radioactive Iodine 131 at levels 300 times higher than normal background.
A lab in Washington State found levels of radioactive xenon gas 40,000 times higher than normal levels.
So we knew the fallout had reached us. And we knew that there were at least 200 other radioactive substances that came along with the fallout from the nuclear plant accident. What we didn’t know was the level of contamination.
We learned that in California the tuna, milk, pistachios, naval oranges, prunes, wild mushrooms, strawberries, seaweed, beef, kale and spinach had been shown to be contaminated with radioactivity. However, having watched the jet stream patterns, we saw that our area in south western British Columbia was often missed by the atmospheric airflow from Japan.
After the initial study came out from Simon Fraser University, no more radioisotope studies were conducted by the researchers at that university So we set about trying to find out if anyone else was testing for radioactive fallout in Canada.
Health Canada and Canadian Food Inspection Milk Testing
We learned that in May and June of 2011, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) had collaborated with Health Canada (HC) and tested 34 samples of milk from the province of British Columbia.
On their website, they published the Cesium 137 findings as all “below detectible levels.” However their detection level was two becquerel/litre (Bq/l). Simply put, one becquerel is the activity of radioactive material in which one nucleus decays per second. This is a high detection level. In the U.S., Cesium 134 and 137 were being detected at levels as low as 0.05 Bq/l.
The detection level of 2 Bq/li is equivalent to 54 pCi/l because one becquerel is about 27 picocuries. Amazingly, the Canadian sensitivity level to this kind of deadly radiation is 1800 percent higher than the three pCi/l safety limit given for potable water in the United States. Regardless, the CFIA declared that all milk samples were “safe.” But a report that the Cesium levels were below this level of two Bq/l did not give us any comfort at all.
We found out that the reason the government tested milk is because milk is a special marker for radioactivity. Health Canada says that the analysis of the radionuclides in milk samples provides valuable information of the general population’s intake of radionuclides.
That is because, when there are environmental releases of radionuclides, the fallout goes into the air; falls on the grass and gets into the water; builds up in water and in the grass that then becomes hay. Cows ingest this contaminated water and hay. This is how the radionuclides “bio-accumulate” or increase in concentration as they go up the food chain.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), also studies milk EPA states that ,“Milk is a reliable indicator of the general population’s intake of certain radionuclides since it is consumed fresh by a large segment of the population and can contain several of the biologically significant radionuclides that result from environmental releases from nuclear activities.“
We contacted Health Canada to find out if they had tested for any other radionuclides. The head of the National Monitoring Section of the Radiation Surveillance Division of the Radiation Protection Bureau of Health Canada was extremely helpful in answering all our questions.
We found out that CFIA and HC did test 16 of the milk samples for Strontium 90 in May and June of 2011. Although they had not published their findings for Strontium 90, they were willing to provide the numbers when we asked them.
HC was able to detect Strontium 90 at levels as low as 0.0176 Bq/kilogram (kg – which is equivalent to the weight of a litre). Seven of the milk samples were below this level of detection. However they did detect Strontium 90 in 9 of the samples. The highest level found was 0.0435 bq/kg(1.175 pCi/kg).
In spite of this, CFIA and HC concluded that, “As expected, negligible levels of radioactivity were detected along the North American west coast.”
In fact, all levels of the Canadian government continue, to this day, to insist that our food and water is safe But how can say that when they haven’t done any testing since the summer of 2011? How can they say that when they have not tested any other local foods at all?
A very important fact is that the reactors that exploded and melted down at Fukushima have still not been brought under control. They are still giving off huge amounts of radionuclides every minute of every day. The Fukushima Diaichi nuclear power plant continues to be out of control almost two years after the catastrophe began
The plant continues to release massive amounts of radiation into the environment. As of December 27, 2012, according to TEPCO, the company that is running the Fukushima Diaichi plant, 10 MILLION Becquerels of Cesium 134 and 137 is still being released EVERY HOUR from reactors 1,2 and 3.
In February 2013, Dr. Helen Caldicott was quoted as saying:
“This crisis is far from over. Large radioactive releases into the ocean continue, and thousands of tons of radioactive waste are set to be incinerated in cities throughout Japan. And worst of all, Fukushima Daiichi’s building #4, which holds 100 tons of highly radioactive spent fuel, was seriously damaged during the earthquake and could collapse in another large quake. This would cause the fuel pool to burn, releasing even more massive amounts of radiation. All of these have profound medical and public health implications.”
Testing for two months in 2011 and then not doing anymore testing at all while the nuclear plants continue to release so much radioactivity into the environment, into the ocean, into the jet stream, all coming our way, does not seem the best action on the part of an agency whose mandate is the food safety of Canada.
As well, fallout can be very localized, so there is no way of knowing if Health Canada’s test results are reflective of our area’s fallout contamination. Sixteen samples in total, and only in 2011, in no way would be enough to collect the kind of data that would provide a clear picture of any ongoing bio-accumulation and increasing fallout contamination.
The Canadian government’s Radiation Protection Bureau needs to be testing food on the west coast of Canada every week at least as long as this Japanese catastrophe is still not under control.
The bureau really needs to establish a regular system of monitoring our food. That way, when the next nuclear accident happens, they would already be measuring and have a baseline of current normal values. When another accident happens, they would immediately be able to determine if we are being affected.
It is unfortunate; to say the least, that Health Canada and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency stopped testing the local milk in the summer of 2011. If they were to test now, they may well find higher levels of contamination – as we did.
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