Effects of Fukushima radiation on human health and Pacific biota — Melanie Pawlyszyn

About 2 trillion becquerels of strontium-90 and cesium-137 have flowed into the bay at Fukushima Daiichi between August 2013 and May 2014, The Japan Times reported.

This figure compounds the already 10 trillion becquerels of strontium-90 and 20 trillion becquerels of cesium-137 that flowed into the bay since May 2011. (One becquerel equals one emission of radiation per second.) These numbers are Tokyo Electric estimates and are unverifiable. Whether they underestimate the amount of radioactivity released into the Pacific Ocean or not, – as TEPCO’s transparency track record isn’t stellar, – it is certain that we’re talking about an unfathomable amount of radioactivity that will undoubtedly affect Pacific marine life and fish tested to be sold on the Japanese market for consumption.

Figures like these may be difficult to interpret into layperson’s terms in an easily understandable context, and it is even more difficult to predict the long-term cumulative effects of the ongoing radiation flowing into Pacific Ocean. However, it is important to understand that there is no safe level or dosage of radiation exposure, as many experts have explained.

The more radiation one inhales or ingests, the higher the risks for illness and disease. It only takes one radioactive particle to mutate a single cell in the body, which may lead to a chain reaction of unhindered cell mutations – i.e., cancer. Now imagine what happens when the body is attacked by 50, 100 or 1,000 radioactive particles. Health risks proliferate.

Strontium-90 has a half-life of about 28 years. So in 28 years, a single particle of strontium-90 will have decomposed by one half. This isotope will remain radioactive at a detectable level for 300 years. When strontium enters the human body, it concentrates in breast milk in women and is laid down in bones and teeth, causing bone cancer or leukemia.

Cesium-137 has a half-life of 30 years, remaining in the environment at a detectable level for over 300 years. In bodies of water, cesium concentrates up the food chain, from algae to crustaceans to small fish to big fish. On land, it travels from soil, to grass, to fruits and vegetables and the animals (and their milk) that consume it. In the human body, it acts like potassium, concentrating largely in the brain, muscles, ovaries and testicles. Cesium can cause brain cancer, muscle cancers, ovarian and testicular cancer and genetic diseases.

300 tons of contaminated water with these and hundreds of other radioactive isotopes continue to flow from Fukushima No. 1 into the Pacific daily.

Researchers at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution’s Center for Marine and Environmental Radiation, which monitors water samples for radiation along the West Coast, reported as of Aug. 14, 2014, that they have detected no cesium-137 radiation from Fukushima.

They emphasize that cesium-134, with a half-life of two years, has been found in abundance off the coast of Japan and has not YET been present in any of their samples off the West Coast and Hawaii. However, Canadian oceanographers have detected it off North American shores.

The Woods Hole website states: “It’s difficult to predict when these radionuclides will arrive onshore because the mixing of offshore and onshore waters is complicated, and not represented in the simple models that predicted the arrival onshore of Fukushima radionuclides this year. The uncertainty in the predictions by these ocean models only emphasizes the importance of collecting samples from along the shores. Remember too that while those models predict increasing levels of both cesium isotopes for the next 2-3 years, the highest published prediction is for 20-30 Bq/m3, or well below what is thought to be of human health or fisheries concern.”

Despite this insight on radioactivity that has not yet reached American shores, reports in the last few years have detailed mass deaths of seals, sea lions, polar bears, bald eagles, sea stars, turtles, king and sockeye salmon, herring, anchovies, and sardines. And while it is important to distinguish correlation from causation, one has to wonder . . .

by Melanie Pawlyszyn