Can anyone point to good information that deals with the health implications of consuming radioactive fallout, as opposed to just being exposed to ionizing radiation? Obviously, these vegetables have not been irradiated directly, so fallout particles must be coming down in the form or dust and/or rain. All the government assurances of don’t worry, be happy, it’s this many long haul flights, or that many chest X-rays, are fine, but how about actually breathing, eating and drinking fallout particles? It would appear to be an apples and oranges comparison to me, but I’m very far from being an expert, or even knowledgeable on these matters.
If you are an expert in this field, or if you are otherwise knowledgeable about this, please leave a comment or contact me.
A, a Cryptogon reader, sent this via email. Here is the reference information for the ICRP-68 document he mentions:
ICRP Publication 68: Dose Coefficients for Intakes of Radionuclides by Workers
Annals of the ICRP Volume 24/4, Replacement of ICRP Publication 61
By International Commission on Radiological Protection
Here is A’s message:
I work as a Health Physicist at a nuclear power plant. Forgive me for the novel I am about to write you. I hope it will be helpful. For your reference, I have attached a copy of ICRP-68, which gives tables of effective dose coefficients for inhalation and ingestion of the various radionuclides. You’re right that the dose consequences can be very different for radioactive material that is outside as opposed to inside the body. That’s why we don’t talk about Bq when we talk about dose, we talk about mrem or mSv (essentially the same unit just a factor of 100 between them, 100 mrem = 1 mSv). It’s all ionizing radiation, though. A Bq is a disintegration per second and is a purely physical unit. A mrem, however, is not just a measure of energy deposition per unit mass (like a rad), but of detriment to the body, typically in terms of a probabilistic increase in the likelihood of developing a fatal cancer. It is used so that you can compare the various forms of radiation. A mrem is a mrem, no matter what type of radiation and a lot of effort goes into figuring out how to get from Bq to mrem for the different radionuclides.
I’ll be honest, though, and say that I take the literature at face value. It would probably take me the rest of my life to derive this stuff from scratch. The physics is the easy part. The physiology and the biochemistry that are the tricky parts. So, with that disclaimer, let’s do a quick review.
Gamma emitters irradiate the whole body at once. They are very penetrating. Most gammas pass right through you without interacting, but some do interact, causing ionization inside your cells. Beta emitters emit electrons that are weakly penetrating but penetrating enough to pass through the dead layer of skin and give dose to the basal layers of the skin as an external irradiator. Beta emitters are also hazards when internal to the body. Alpha emitters tend to be heavy elements that emit alpha particles (a He nucleus of 2 protons and 2 neutrons) when they decay. Alpha radiation is only a hazard when it’s inside you, because it cannot penetrate the dead layer of skin on the outside of the body. Internally, though, alphas are very bad since they tend to be very energetic and deposit their energy into a small mass (energy deposition per unit mass is very high).
Once inside the body, not all radionuclides are created equal (as you can see in table B.1 of ICRP-68). Most radionuclides emit multiple forms of radiation and the energies of these radiations can vary widely. In addition, the various biological processes carry the nuclides to different parts of the body where some nuclides are collected for long periods of time, while others are eliminated quickly. There are two removal mechanisms for nuclides that have entered the body: radioactive decay and biological elimination. For example, tritium (3H) in water vapour form has an effective half-life of about 10 days, even through the radiological half-life is 12.3 years. That means if someone has 1 Bq in them today, they’ll have about 0.5 Bq in them in 10 days. Drinking lots of fluids can increase the rate of elimination, reducing the effective half-life. The important thing to remember is that radionuclides generally behave chemically in the same way as the stable elements do.
When you talk about health implications, you are talking about what we call detriment. For acute exposures to high levels of radiation, we can see deterministic effects, like skin reddening or changes in blood cells, nausea, vomiting and death within weeks. The firefighters at Chernobyl had deterministic effects. Typically, though, we are not talking about exposures of this magnitude for the public. We look instead at stochastic effects. These effects are probabilistic. The average risk of developing a fatal cancer due to an exposure of ionizing radiation of 1000 mrem is generally considered to be 0.04% for an adult. So, if 100,000 adults all received 1000 mrem in one year, how many could we expect to eventually die of a fatal cancer that was caused by the irradiation? About 40. It typically takes a decade or more for these cancers to show up. So, unless the exposure is very high, stochastic effects may not present themselves in an older population since something else may cause these people to die before the cancer caused by the exposure would. Infants and children are a different story. Not only do they have many more years left to live and hence express the effects of their exposure, they also have cell division rates that are much higher since they are growing. Cells that divide more frequently are more radiosensitive, since a cell with damaged DNA passes the damage on to subsequent cell generations. There are other documents that give age-dependent dose coefficients. I’ll see if I can dig them up.
OK, I think that’s enough background. Now to try to answer your questions directly. These vegetables have not been irradiated by a neutron flux, so they have not directly been activated. They are collecting radioactive material in the form of surface contamination externally as you say. The article doesn’t actually say which nuclide they’re talking about, but I assume it’s Cs-137, because that’s a very common fission product and has a 30y half-life. On page 86 of 121 (ICRP-68) you will find Cs-137 has the following dose coefficients:
e-inh(50) = 6.7E-9 Sv/Bq
e-ing(50) = 1.3E-8 Sv/Bq
As you can see, Cs-137 when inhaled leads to about half as much dose as it does when ingested. This is due to the different route it takes through the body. The (50) means that the value accounts for dose delivered over a 50 year period. The article says that 500 Bq/kg is the legal limit and 890 Bq/kg was found on the spinach. The pathway we are talking about is ingestion, so multiplying 890 Bq/kg by 1.3E-8 Sv/Bq gives us 1.16E-5 Sv/kg, or 1 mrem/kg ingested. I don’t know how much spinach the Japanese eat, but 1 kg per day would lead to 365 mrem/y CEDE (Committed Effective Dose Equivalent). This is about the same dose we all get from natural radon each year. The public dose limit I’m used to is 100 mrem/y. It’s probably the same in Japan. I realize that a person eating 1 kg per day of spinach would be getting 4 times the legal limit, but the risks associated with this dose are still fairly small. That being said, the article says that this vegetable was grown in Tokyo. How high are the contamination levels in other parts of the country? Data that I saw showed what looked to be a plume moving to the NW due to a wind coming from the SE, so I would expect the higher levels of contamination to be NW of the plants, not almost due south. Regardless, this is a huge mess and I expect it will have measurable health consequences for some of the Japanese public. It’s really hard to say how severe it will be without more data, though.
Let me know if you’d like more.
SH, a Cryptogon reader, sent this via email:
Sorry in advance for the length of this, but I don’t know how to effectively and convincingly say in one sentence, “ingesting radioactive crap is a bad idea that can harm and eventually kill you.” There isn’t a “one size fit’s all” answer to your question because each element has unique chemical and absorption properties. Consequently, each element (and each isotope of each element) can cause different problems- with a lot of overlap among them. I’m no expert, but I have done a lot of reading on this subject so I’ll share what I’ve learned-
There has been vast amounts of scholarly research done that is reported in the public domain regarding the consumption of radionuclides. For example, a Google search of “iodine-131 thyroid disease” (I-131) will bring up dissertations, medical and scientific journal articles, legal opinions, etc ( http://www.atsdr.cdc.gov/csem/iodine/biologic_fate.html ). The foremost immediate concern in the aftermath of any “low level” radiation release is consumption of anything with I-131 (and I-129) in it, including vegetation, cows milk, lactating human mother’s milk, and drinking water with radioactive particles suspended in it. I-131 collects in the thyroid gland almost immediately and the radioactivity STAYS there, irradiating the gland for years. Over a time span of years to decades, this causes far more incidents of thyroid diseases, including cancers, than just background radiation causes in people who have never consumed I-131. Potassium Iodide is used to fill up the thyroid, blocking I-131 from collecting there.
Here are some links to some other ingestion issues of other elements, and keep in mind they each have several isotopes that behave differently. “Plutonium ingestion ( http://www.hss.doe.gov/healthsafety/ohre/roadmap/records/anlrslis/15.html ). “Cesium-137 ingestion” ( http://www.evs.anl.gov/pub/doc/Cesium.pdf ). Cesium quickly spreads through the entire body like potassium does rather than collecting directly in any one particular place the way I-131 does. “Uranium ingestion” ( http://www.doh.wa.gov/ehp/rp/factsheets/factsheets-htm/fs27uran.htm ). Uranium is more of a heavy metal poisoning issue than a radioisotope concern. Just watch the news and look up any of the elements they mention that are being spewed from the reactors.
Keep in mind that there’s a vast difference between nuclear power plant fuel that is enriched to around 5% vs say, cobalt, which is enriched up to 25% for medical purposes (killing cancer cells- and healthy cells as a byproduct) and the 90 to 95% enrichment that is needed to produce nuclear weapons. Japan clearly isn’t using those plants for nuclear weapons or even cobalt enrichment. They are strictly for power production despite using plutonium in reactor #3. The reason for that is that it is a longer lasting fuel- both in good and bad ways.
You can stop there or read on for some sad but interesting history-
This link is to an article published in February 1979 in the Journal of Atomic Scientists written by Giff Johnson titled “Micronesia: America’s ‘Strategic’ Trust.” In it you will find that what was discovered is that people who were NOT irradiated in the 1946/1947 testing and didn’t live on contaminated soil or eat contaminated foods until 10+ years later ended up just as sick with radiation issues once they DID move to the islands and begin consuming locally grown produce. Interestingly, the US BANNED nearly ALL non-US investigators and doctors from the islands. Some of the islanders got so alarmed by what was happening to them that they arranged examinations by the JAPANESE who reported that the islanders received “a considerable amount of radioactive nuclides from the environment…”. I recall reading an article in an old National Geographic about the plight of these same people- that they had grown and eaten produce from the island when they were finally allowed to return and within a few years there were cancer problems. The US government evacuated the islanders a second time and iirc, finally agreed to scrape off the top 18″ of existing top soil and replace it with soil that was uncontaminated to prevent any future generations from consuming radioactive particles.
And from that, any jury should be able to hang everyone in Japan who is covering up the REAL details while the industry and government “managers” play CYA and downplay the dangers. Based on what I know from years of study, what they are doing is way beyond conspiracy to commit fraud or murder- what they are doing is committing genocide at an imperceptibly slow pace for the sake of profit margin. What the hell, those in charge will be dead and gone before today’s healthy 5-year old kids are 30-year old adults dying from consuming radionuclides in foods, so why worry about it, right? I don’t object to profit margin, but I do object to obtaining it at the expense of the lives and health of those who make you rich.
Historically, FOIA releases proved that there were a lot of dirty, rotten inexcusable radiation and “medical” experiments done on a lot of uninformed people by various US Government agencies over the last 60 years, and if you dig around you might be able to find some of those results published that are directly applicable to the health effects of ingesting ionizing radiation. But one thing is certain- TONS of information does exist about it, particularly with regard to leaking nuke plants- and those effects can be lethal. I would like to relate 3 personal stories of how I know this to be true-
33 years ago, the woman who used to cut my hair told me a shattering story of how she had given birth to a baby boy in the hospital at Hanford, Washington in 1958, the same year I was born. Her baby and the other two who were born in that hospital that same day all suddenly died within a few days for reasons nobody could explain. All three were born normal, healthy, full term babies with unremarkable deliveries. After explaining all that, she said, “I’m sure it had something to do with those Hanford nuclear plants. It snowed that day and the snow was black. I’ve lived here all my life and I’d never seen anything like that before and neither had anyone else that I talked to.” Sadly, years later I found out she was absolutely right. There was a huge and prolonged class action law suit against the government where it was finally proved that radionuclides were deliberately released into the atmosphere MANY times from those plants, and the folks who were affected are called “Hanford Down-winders.” This article about it is a mind blower: http://www.djc.com/special/enviro98/10043971.htm
“Children, the largest consumers of milk, are more susceptible to the harmful effects of radiation than adults. One of the more horrifying ways in which numerous Downwinders were exposed to Hanford’s radioactive materials was through their mother’s milk. Like other living organisms, humans who consume contaminated plants or animals, drink radioactive milk or water, inhale radiative material or are otherwise exposed to radiation, also secrete harmful radionuclide into their milk and pass it along to suckling babies in a more concentrated form.
“As it turns out, Hanford was as safe as mother’s milk; but the milk itself was hazardous to the child it was meant to nurture.”
I had an aunt and a co-worker who both had lived in that area and both had multiple rounds of very serious cancers that are typical of the down-winders. The coworker actually worked at Hanford in the late 1950′s and early 1960′s. He told me he used to handle uranium and other metals with bare hands until reaching his dosage limit- sometimes only a few minutes. Then he would have to sit on his ass for the rest of his shift and wasn’t allowed to do ANYTHING. He said he felt like an exhausted dead dog for weeks afterward. No respirators, gloves, etc. He died of cancer a few years ago. I also recall him saying that the limit at that time was “100 rems. Now it’s ONE.” I have no way of knowing how much he ingested, but I think it’s reasonable to say it was probably enough to cause him years of misery and eventually, death. He clearly recovered from the immediate effects and led a healthy, vibrant life when he didn’t have cancer. My aunt, who lived in Yakima exactly 44 miles UP-wind from Hanford had Grave’s disease (thyroid gone TU) and last I heard, she was fighting metastasized cancer.
Interestingly, the online radiation monitors in Washington always show higher background in Richland than anywhere in western Washington. Richland is adjacent to the Hanford site a few miles from the nearest reactor. http://www.doh.wa.gov/Topics/japan/monitor-history.htm Notice how they measure “gross Beta” radiation and nowhere do they mention Gamma. I find that incredibly deceptive. Beta probably won’t penetrate through the roof of your house at lethal levels, but Gamma radiation sure as hell will. Each particle emits rays akin to a very high powered rifle firing bullets in all directions. That’s why the need for 4 1/2 feet of dirt on top of a radiation shelter.
I also distinctly remember that after Chernobyl, there were government cover-ups in various counties in Europe resulting in kids drinking milk that was full of radioactive iodine. The expected result was increases in thyroid disease and cancers and I’m sure that enough time has passed and enough research has been done to confirm that. That’s why taking potassium iodide is critical, especially in kids. They are very susceptible to the damaging effects of having their thyroid glands filled with radioactive iodine and if they take potassium iodide when there is an emergency, their thyroid glands will be “full” and unable to absorb the radioactive iodine. It’s not something that’s safe to do as a regular part of one’s diet from what I gather, but it works in an emergency. Of course the BEST option is to simply be away from the radioactivity and not eat or drink anything that has absorbed radioactive particles.
So you’ll still have to do some digging of your own of course, but I think that this information might point you in the right direction.
Radiation is radiation no matter what the source, and “if they build it, they will use it.” Consequently I’ve read NWSS (Nuclear War Survival Skills) by Cresson Kearny cover to cover, only to find that survival comes down to taking whatever action is necessary to wake up each morning. Piece of cake- even at ground zero in a nuclear war IF you know what you’re doing and remain aware and prepared for doing what you have to when you have to. Boyscout motto: “Be prepared.” If I had been in Japan, my immediate action as soon as I had heard about radiation would have been to LEAVE Japan immediately. Every bungle that has happened so far I predicted the minute I heard about the “possibility” of a problem at the Fukushima Daiichi plant, and I believe, it’s just about infinitely worse than they are admitting to.
Anyway, regarding NWSS, I’ve built and improved upon the soup can ionization chambers for measuring radiation levels, made accurate nomographs for calculating shelter time, etc. Interesting stuff if you suspect your life and the lives of millions of other people depend on learning it. The book gives detailed instructions on how to build both fallout and blast/fallout shelters. It’s free online here: http://www.oism.org/nwss/s73p908.htm It’s better to buy a hard copy of the book though for accurate pattern sizes and such. Also, in the event of a major shooting match, there’s little chance that an electronic book will be accessible due to the rapid rearranging of a lot of zeros and ones from electromagnetic pulse.
Somewhere in my collection of stuff that is currently packed (we’re moving) is a two CD set of virtually ALL of the nuclear emergency survival literature that was produced not only by the US, but also from other countries as well. I bought it from Richard Fleetwood ( http://www.survivalring.org/ ) who has meticulously collected and digitized thousands of documents over many years. Looks like he now allows folks to download them all for free in his “downloads” drop down menu. Richard is as dedicated and as serious as you are about giving people the knowledge they need for surviving the calamities that a few members of the human race seem to be determined to bring upon the rest of us.
Lastly, I cannot see how the final expense account of this 4 pronged disaster (quake, tsunami, radiation, coverup) is going to cost less than TRILLIONS of dollars. Just the health care of those directly affected by the radiation alone is going to cost a hell of a lot more than the initial “$40 Billion” that idiot prognosticators started to spew within two days of the quake. I’m talking about followup care for the entire life span of thousands- if not MILLIONS of kids.
I appreciate your concern and your efforts. This is really serious stuff and most people would rather die than even hear about it. I hope that’s not the case with you. I countless hundreds of hours over the last 15 years learning about this so I could share it if and when the need ever arose. Well you have expressed the need, so I spent the last 3 1/2 hours putting this together for you. I hope it’s beneficial.
Japan’s health ministry says radiation above the legal limit has been detected in a vegetable grown in Tokyo. This is the first time that radioactive cesium exceeding the legal limit has been found in a Tokyo vegetable.
The ministry says the radioactive cesium was detected on Thursday in a leafy vegetable taken from a field in Edogawa ward on Wednesday. The vegetable is called Komatsuna, or Japanese mustard spinach. The radioactive level was 890 becquerels per kilogram, exceeding the legal limit of 500.
The vegetable was grown at a research center, and is not being sold on the market.
The health ministry says that level of radioactivity would not have an adverse effect on health, even if the vegetable was eaten.
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