Posted by Claudia Grazioso on July 8, 2011
Why can’t I stop thinking about the ongoing radiation leaks from Fukushima? After all, the rest of the world seems to have moved on. Fukushima is no longer on the 24-hour news loop. The Environmental Protection Agency has stopped testing radiation levels. And the FDA says our food supply is safe. Oh, wait! That’s why I can’t stop thinking about it. That’s why I think it’s premature to move on.
I am no scientist, but it seems to me that if the reactors in Japan are still leaking radiation, maybe radiation is still reaching us. Maybe that fallout cloud a few months ago that the media tracked minute by minute across the Pacific with all kinds of cool graphics and scary headlines wasn’t a one-time thing.
At the time, the news reported only slight increases in radiation. Increases which, we were told, were well below the levels at which radiation is a threat to human health. There was a lot of talk about x-rays and airplanes and radiation that we come into contact with everyday. But what about radiation that you eat? Isn’t that a little different from radiation that, say, you walk by?
Short answer: Yes. When you ingest radiation, it can lodge in your body for years, causing damage and significantly increasing your chances of developing cancer. Additionally, some radioactive elements which have been found at detectable levels in the U.S. food supply, like radioactive cesium 137, have rather long half-lives… meaning they can stick around a lot longer, and cause a lot more harm.
And sadly, as is almost always the case, young children are the most susceptible.
So where is this radiation and how do you avoid it? Some independent groups including the University of California at Berkeley Department of Nuclear Engineering have been independently monitoring the levels of radiation in our food supply, and they have continued to find elevated levels of radioactive iodine and cesium in milk samples. Specifically, they have found iodine 131 and cesium 134 and 137. Organic milk seems to be the most susceptible to elevated radiation levels since the cows are grass-fed. Elevated radiation has also been detected in broad leaf vegetables (kale, spinach, arugula) as well as strawberries and wild mushrooms.
While UCB has stressed that there is no danger to human health, some physicians have countered, claiming that no level of toxic radiation can be considered “safe.” So what is a parent to do? For the time being, I’m going French. CRIIRAD, a French research group that focuses on radioactivity, has issued a report saying that the radiation levels in the food supply from the Fukushima fall out can no longer be considered “negligible.” The group has urged pregnant and nursing women to avoid broad leaf vegetables as well as fresh milk products. Since children are particularly vulnerable to radiation, I’m applying this to my kids, as well.
Am I being overly cautious? Possibly. But France is twice as far from Japan as the Western U.S., so if they are alarmed by the radiation levels there, maybe we should pay closer attention here. And anyway, the French were ahead of us by about 10 years on banning phthalates and BPAs. I’m going to go with their call.
It’s so unfair. I finally got my kids eating kale. And, believe me, finding a kid-friendly kale recipe is no easy task. But for the time being, at least until the fallout from Fukushima stops (and then probably for a while after), my kids get a reprieve.