San Francisco Rainwater: Radiation 181 Times Above US Drinking Water Standard

London, UK - 4th April 2011, 14:05 GMT

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Radiation from Japan rained on Berkeley, California, during recent storms at levels that exceeded drinking water standards by 181 times. A rooftop water monitoring program managed by the University of California at Berkeley’s Department of Nuclear Engineering detected substantial spikes in rain-borne iodine-131 during those torrential downpours. The levels exceeded federal drinking water thresholds, known as Maximum Contaminant Levels -- or MCLs -- by as much as 181 times or 18,100%. Iodine-131 is one of the most cancer-causing toxic radioactive isotopes spewed when nuclear power plants are in meltdown. It is being ingested by cows, which have begun passing it through into their milk and radioactivity has been detected. [Multiple Sources]

UC Berkeley data shows spike in Iodine-131

Specific Scientific Data

The iodine-131 level in the rainwater sample taken on the roof of Etcheverry Hall on the campus of UC Berkeley on March 23rd, 2011, from 9:06-18:00hrs Pacific Daylight Time (PDT) states radioactivity levels at 20.1 Becquerels per Litre (Bq/L) = 543 PicoCuries per Litre (pCi/L). The federal maximum level of iodine-131 allowed in drinking water is 3 pCi/L or 0.111 Becquerels per Litre. The sample exceeded the federal guidelines for drinking water by 181 times. The UC Berkeley researchers also discovered trace levels of iodine-131 and other radioactive isotopes, believed to have originated in Fukushima, in commercially available milk and in a local stream within California. [UC Berkeley]

No Official Data Yet

Three weeks after the Fukushima nuclear power plant began spewing radiation into the world’s air, the US government has still not published any official data on nuclear fallout from the Fukushima meltdown. The amount of iodine-131 or other radioactive elements that have fallen as precipitation or made their way into milk supplies or drinking water has not yet been fully revealed. Scientists say an absence of federal data on the issue is hampering efforts to develop strategies for preventing radioactive isotopes from contaminating the nation's food and water. [The Bay Citizen, San Francisco]

Rising Risks

Fukushima radiation is blanketing most of the United States and Canada according to the data and visuals published regularly by the The Norwegian Institute of Air Research. The risks of that radiation falling with rain, have been downplayed by US government officials and others, who say its impacts are so fleeting and minor so as to be negligible. Nonetheless, radiation falling with rain can cover grass that is eaten by cows and other animals. It can also fall on food crops or contaminate reservoirs that are used for irrigation or drinking water. [Norwegian Institute of Air Research or NILU]

Food and Water Watch

Food and Water Watch -- the nonprofit Non-Governmental Organisation (NGO) based in Washington, DC -- sent a letter to President Barack Obama and members of his cabinet and Congress a few days ago urging the US federal government to improve its monitoring of radiation in agricultural land and food in the wake of the Japanese tragedy. The letter from "Food and Water Watch" states: “The three agencies that monitor almost all of the food Americans eat … have insisted that the US food supply is safe . . . the agencies, however, have done very little to detail specific ways in which they are responding to the threat of radiation in food.”


The federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) states in its April 3rd advisory, "As the Nuclear Regulatory Commission has said, we do not expect to see radiation at harmful levels reaching the US from damaged Japanese nuclear power plants." The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which regulates food safety, has referred questions about potential milk contamination to the EPA, which is taking the lead on testing dairy products for radiation. Early last week, the EPA said it expected to release results of tests for radioactivity in rain and snow within a day or so. Just before the weekend, three days after making that pledge, EPA officials repeated the same statement and said the data would likely be released over the weekend or early this week. So far that data set has not been released. [EPA]


Potentially cancer-causing radiation from Fukushima has been encircling the world, traveling quickly on jet streams high in the atmosphere and falling with precipitation like rain and snow. It is already being detected in air, water and milk in some parts of the United States by local and state agencies. For example, San Francisco rain water radiation levels exceeded federal drinking water thresholds by as much as 181 times recently. A radioactive isotope, such as iodine-131, is supposed to have a half-life of eight days. This is inferred to mean that it breaks down quickly, and it quickly dissipates in the environment. However, the 8 day half-life can be a misnomer because radioactive iodine can really persist in the environment for many months and has a 100 day biological half-life once inside the human body.


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