No radiation levels of concern have reached the US: EPA

by Bryan Salvage
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WASHINGTON – While the US meat industry has sprung into action to help Japan during its time of need in the wake of its devastating earthquake and tsunami, it also continues to keep an eye on what experts have called the remote to non-existent possibility of dangerous amounts of fallout from Japan’s damaged nuclear power plants reaching this country.

“We are keeping an eye on the situation, but so far there seems to be no cause for concern.” Richard Lobb, National Chicken Council spokesman, told MEATPOULTRY.com.

“At the moment, there is no credible information that should give US pork producers concern,” adds Michael Wegner, vice president/communications, National Pork Board. “Our animal scientists and environmental specialists are monitoring events carefully.”

To date, the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) said it has identified trace amounts of radioactive isotopes consistent with the Japanese nuclear incident during detailed filter analyses from 12 RadNet air monitor locations throughout the US. On March 28, EPA said some of the filter results show levels slightly higher than those found by EPA monitors last week and a Department of Energy monitor the week before. These types of findings are to be expected in the coming days and are still far below levels of public health concern, EPA maintains.

EPA’s samples were captured by monitors in Alaska, Alabama, California, Guam, Hawaii, Idaho, Nevada, Saipan, Northern Mariana Islands and Washington state over the past week and sent to EPA scientists for detailed laboratory analysis.

Of primary concern to Japan at this moment, radioactive material falling from the air or carried in water or snow can deposit on the surface of foods like fruits, vegetables or animal feed, stated the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO). Over time, radioactivity can build up within food, as radioactive material is transferred through soil into crops or animals. Radioactivity can also be washed into rivers, lakes and the sea where fish and seafood could take up the radionuclides.

The severity of the risk depends on the radionuclide mix and the level of contaminant released, FAO points out. Radioactivity cannot contaminate food that is packaged; for example, tinned or plastic-wrapped food is protected from radioactivity as long as the food is sealed, FAO adds.

Countries responding to an emergency involving radioactivity should be the same as responding to any emergency involving any hazardous material contaminating food, FAO continues. In the early stages of an emergency, if it is safe to do so, it is possible to prevent or minimize contaminating food by doing the following:

  • Protect feed and animal fodder which is stored outside with plastic or impermeable sheets
  • Close the ventilation of greenhouses
  • Bring livestock from pasture into a shed or barn
  • Refrain from harvesting after radioactive material fallout

Other actions need to be considered in areas confirmed to be seriously contaminated, such as:

  • Avoid consumption of locally produced milk or vegetables
  • Avoid slaughtering animals
  • Avoid consumption and harvesting of aquatic animals and plants (includes fish, shellfish and algae)
  • Avoid hunting or gathering mushrooms or other wild or collected foods
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