You may have heard the news last March that Americans had nothing to worry about from the Fukushima radiation disaster. Did you believe it? I did. I was lazy and I didn't do enough research. Well now I am wondering if, in my laziness, I allowed myself to once again be duped by a government who has time and time again shown itself to not be worthy of my trust. Just six days after the disastrous meltdowns struck four reactors at Fukushima on March 11, scientists detected the plume of toxic fallout had arrived over American shores.
Subsequent measurements by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) found levels of radiation in air, water, and milk up to 200 times above normal across the U.S. The highest detected levels of Iodine-131 in precipitation in the U.S. were as follows (normal is about 2 picocuries I-131 per liter of water): Boise, ID (390); Kansas City (200); Salt Lake City (190); Jacksonville, FL (150); Olympia, WA (125); and Boston, MA (92). Still, the EPA told us there was nothing to be concerned about because the levels were too low to cause harm. They were wrong.
On Monday I listened in on a news conference given by Epidemiologist Joseph Mangano and Internist and toxicologist Janette Sherman, MD. Joseph Mangano is the executive director of the Radiation and Public Health Project and the author of 27 peer-reviewed medical journal articles and letters. Dr. Janette Sherman is an adjunct professor at Western Michigan University and contributing editor of Chernobyl - Consequences of the Catastrophe for People and the Environment. The news conference was worrisome to say the least.
The focus of the press conference by Dr. Sherman and Mr. Mangano was their just released, peer-reviewed article in the December 2011 edition of the International Journal of Health Services. Their article asks the question if there is a correlation between an estimated 14,000 excess deaths in the United States and the radioactive fallout from the disaster at the Fukushima nuclear reactors in Japan.
The CDC issues weekly reports on numbers of deaths for 122 U.S. cities with a population over 100,000, or about 25-30 percent of the U.S. According to the CDC, in the 14 weeks after Fukushima fallout arrived in the U.S. (March 20 to June 25), deaths reported to the CDC rose 4.46 percent from the same period in 2010, compared to just 2.34 percent in the 14 weeks prior. Estimated excess deaths during this period for the entire U.S. is about 14,000. Mangano and Sherman say that the rise in reported deaths after Fukushima was largest among U.S. infants under age one.
In the 14 weeks following the Fukushima nuclear disaster, in Boise, deaths were 23% higher than for the same time period the year before. Remember Boise had the highest concentration of Iodine-131 in precipitation from any locations studied.
Although the EPA should be at the forefront of finding out how to reduce these types of risks, our own government has failed miserably in a chance to collect data from Fukushima. "We ignore our history at our peril." said Dr.Sherman. She also filled me in on the fact that the BEIR VII report in 2005 made it clear that even at low levels of exposure to radiation, there are cancer risks.
And what about food imports and west coast foods? How concerned should consumers be about cherries from our own west coast or rice from Japan? We need more study on the part of the CDC and EPA and a willingness for fisheries and food producers to find out if there are isotopes in fish from the Pacific and in food from Washington. Communities and industries like fisheries should be using a $400 Geiger counter for testing and making their findings public.
I could hear the worry in Dr. Sherman's voice as she told the press that "Very little data has been collected on the West Coast. I certainly would be concerned about eating food coming from Japan. But of greater concern is what is happening to the fisheries along the western coast and coast of Alaska. We don't know what the levels may be in the fish.. We just don't know."
Epidemiologist Joseph Mangano, MPH MBA, added that what is significant about this study is that, "It is the first peer reviewed article, published in a scientific journal, to show the health impacts of the Fukushima reactor disaster. The article raises concerns, and strongly suggests that health studies continue, to understand the true impact of Fukushima in Japan and around the world. Findings are important to the current debate of whether to build new reactors, and how long to keep aging ones in operation."
Sources: BEIR VII Report, News Conference Janette Sherman, MD and Joseph Mangano, MPH MBA, Press Release