TUESDAY, April 12 (HealthDay News) -- In their furious effort to
stabilize the nuclear reactors damaged by last month's earthquake
and tsunami, Japanese workers have released thousands of gallons of
water contaminated by radiation into the sea, stirring worries that
seafood consumed on this side of the Pacific could be affected.
But experts say fish-eaters in North America are in no danger,
either from fish caught in Japanese waters and shipped over here or
from fish caught closer to home in waters that might have become
contaminated by drifting radiation.
"People have been asking, 'Can I still eat my fish?' The answer is yes," said Dr. Kory Gill, an assistant professor at the Texas A&M Health Science Center College of Medicine and a physician at Texas A&M Physicians in Bryan.
Seafood imported from Japan represents only 1 percent of the
total U.S. import, Gill said. And, according to the U.S. Food and
Drug Administration, all foods imported from Japan -- including
fruits, vegetables and milk and milk products -- comprise less than
4 percent of all food imported by the United States.
Plus, the FDA is taking extra efforts to test all food products,
including seafood, coming from Japan in the wake of the shattering
tsunami and earthquake.
And, so far, Gill said, "no significant levels [of radiation]
are coming back."
On Tuesday, the Japanese government raised the crisis level at
the Fukushima nuclear complex to a level similar to the 1986
Chernobyl disaster in the Ukraine, citing high overall radiation
leaks. Government officials contended, however, that the health
risks caused by Chernobyl still far outweighed those posed by the
Fukushima plant, the
Associated Press reported.
U.S. experts said radiation dumped into Japanese waters isn't
likely to make it over here in sufficient concentrations to cause
"If the radioisotopes that are released into the water in Japan on the other side of the Pacific were to make it over to the eastern Pacific, let's say the coast of Alaska, the concentrations are likely to be so vanishingly low that any radioactivity accumulated by fish in U.S. waters will be virtually certain to be negligible," said Nicholas Fisher, professor of marine and atmospheric sciences at the State University of New York at Stony Brook. "The radiation dose will be extremely low compared to radiation that's naturally occurring in fish."
Added Jacqueline Williams, program director for radiation
medicine at the Center for Biophysical Assessment and Risk
Management Following Irradiation at the University of Rochester
Medical Center in New York: "Obviously, if it's going into the
ocean, there's going to be a dilution factor. We're 5,000 miles
away. There's a lot of ocean between Japan and the U.S."
Also, Williams explained, "the particular isotope everyone is
fussing about [iodine 131] has a half life of about eight days,
which means that every eight days, the level of radioactivity is
"After 56 days, you're down to a little less than 1 percent," Fisher said. "After 10 half lives, you're down to about one-tenth of 1 percent so it's almost certain it's not going to be a problem."
The greater contamination risk is likely to come from iodine
uptake by seaweed, Williams.
While seaweed is a much more significant component of Asian
diets than North American ones, people here do occasionally consume
Japanese seaweed, for example, in sushi.
"There's a chance that some seaweeds are going to have pretty high iodine concentrations and if they're consumed as part of sushi or some other use for human consumption it might be a problem," Fisher said.
How big of a problem? Not much, he added.
"There are two reasons to be a little bit optimistic," Fisher said. "As I understand it, most of the seaweed harvested in Japan for human consumption is harvested well south of Tokyo so it's well far afield [from the nuclear-reactor problems]."
Also, the half-life principle refers to iodine in seaweed as
well, meaning that it is a problem that will go away in time.
"All levels of contaminants are so low that they would not come anywhere near a level that would possibly be hazardous. We do tests on patients that use 1,000 times that level of radiation and there's no concern," said Dr. Irwin Klein, chief of the thyroid center at North Shore University Hospital in Manhasset, N.Y. "The worst thing would be for someone to overreact and take potassium iodide. That could end up harming them. In the U.S., we have nothing to be concerned about with regard to the tragedy in Japan."
FDA has more on radiation safety in the wake of
the Japanese tragedies.
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