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EPA boosts radiation monitoring after low levels found in milk

By the CNN Wire Staff

March 31, 2011

Washington (CNN) -- The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is increasing its nationwide monitoring of radiation as two states reported very low levels of radiation in milk.

The agency said Wednesday it is boosting its monitoring of radiation in milk, precipitation, drinking water, and other outlets. It already tracks radiation in those potential exposure routes through an existing network of stations across the country.

Results from screening samples of milk taken in the past week in Spokane, Washington, and in San Luis Obispo County, California, detected radioactive iodine at a level 5,000 times lower than the limit set by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, officials said.

The I-131 isotope has a very short half-life of about eight days, the EPA said, so the level detected in milk and milk products is expected to drop relatively quickly.

FDA senior scientist Patricia Hansen also said the findings are "miniscule" compared to what people experience every day.

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Washington Gov. Chris Gregoire said tests confirmed the milk is safe to drink.

"This morning I spoke with the chief advisers for both the EPA and the FDA and they confirmed that these levels are miniscule and are far below levels of public health concern, including for infants and children," Gregoire said in a statement.

"According to them, a pint of milk at these levels would expose an individual to less radiation than would a five-hour airplane flight."

Similarly, the California Department of Public Health reassured residents that the levels do not pose a threat.

"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.

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.

Iodine-131 has been found in eastern states from Florida to Massachusetts as well as in western states like Oregon, Colorado, and California, according to sensors and officials in those states.

None of the levels poses a risk to public health, they said.

The Japanese plant has been leaking radiation since it was damaged in the earthquake and resulting tsunami earlier this month.