Any Radiation Can Be Harmful

Let’s start with the bottom line: the National Academy of Sciences says that exposure to even low levels of radiation can be harmful. They originally shared this finding in a report published back in 2006. This is critical information to consider since we all have legitimate reasons to be concerned with the current situation regarding Japan’s nuclear reactors.

News has spread quickly that evidence of radiation is turning up in several states in the United States. But rather than explain how they will protect people from potential exposures, our government is simply telling us that the levels of radiation are minor and that we shouldn’t worry about it. Did they read the NAS report?

Reminder: There is no safe level of exposure to radiation in food or in water.

From the National Academy of Sciences Report: “A preponderance of scientific evidence shows that even low doses of ionizing radiation, such as gamma rays and X-rays, are likely to pose some risk of adverse health effects.”

The big hook here should be the “preponderance of scientific evidence.”

The FDA has said that it will be blocking imports that come from the region where the nuclear plant sits, but that’s not really enough. Sadly, the FDA would need to block all imports from all of Japan to truly be effective.

It’s true that only four percent of our food imports come from Japan, most of which is fish and processed foods. Considering the fact that 80 percent of seafood in the United States is imported and only two percent is inspected, this becomes much more of a concern. Last year, we imported nearly 600,000 pounds of crab and anchovies and nearly 5 million gallons of bottled water, soft drinks and other non-alcoholic beverages containing water, from Japan. These products may be potentially higher risk if contamination continues to spread to the ocean and fresh water sources.

There is also the possibility of radiation exposure from the plumes that have drifted into North America. While it’s not clear how widespread or severe the contamination is so far, keep in mind that the damage is done over a longer period of time, and it can affect us through the air we breathe, the food we eat and the water we use.

The real danger from radiation will be cumulative and will involve many factors. As humans, we are at the top of the food chain and therefore more susceptible to radiation exposure as it moves up the food chain.

Considering all of these factors, and knowing that we are extremely vulnerable to radiation exposure, we need our government to step up and take action. Food & Water Watch Executive Director Wenonah Hauter has sent a letter to President Obama, urging him to work with our regulatory agencies to establish a strategy for radiation monitoring and testing of the soil and water. The federal government needs to deal with this critical issue quickly and effectively.

If you’d like to learn more about the impact of Japan’s nuclear accident on our food, check out Food & Water Watch’s fact sheet.


Related Stories:

Fukushima Radiation Plumes Reach U.S. East Coast

FDA Blocks Import of Japanese Milk and Produce

Flame_retardant Chemicals Found in Common Foods


Photo courtesy of sdbrown via flickr
Written by Rich Bindell of Food & Water Watch

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Jo S.
Jo S.1 months ago

Thanks Lindsay.

Joe R.
Joe R.3 years ago

We've got to stop adding to the problem. No more dangerous nuclear plants.

Ellie Damann
.3 years ago


Norma V.
Norma Villarreal4 years ago

Radiation is radiation and depending on the individual body, there are consequences that eventually show up.

Earths Defense's
Earths Defense's4 years ago

Down with Radition lets go green but not nuclear green!

Carole L.
Carole L.4 years ago

I'm more concerned with other contaminants, like mercury.

Stephen Amsel
Past Member 4 years ago

There is naturally some uranium in seawater. Radiation tends to break apart crystals which include radioactive elements. Without crystallization, they were among the last to solidify as the Earth formed so most of them are near the surface. The seabed is relatively malleable so a lot of it naturally ended up in seawater. The change on California coasts is measurable, but I would give 1000-to-1 odds that it is tiny compared to the naturally occurring radiation there, and I don't gamble. Nothing can be done to stop the spread, but stopping it is not necessary.

Jenna Brennan
Jennifer B.4 years ago

What can be done to stop the spread? Is there any hope?

Paula L.
Paula L.4 years ago

My worries are for my daughter and her family who live near the coast in california. Radiation counts have already increased there in their soil samples and in the sea water. Reguardless of what you are hearing, it is happening. She says they are keeping a close tab on it, and fear it is going to go higher as it continues to spill into the ocean in Japan.

Stephen Amsel
Past Member 4 years ago

Perhaps I should have been more clear:
The rocks themselves are not the analogy. The damage from crushing is analogous to the damage from poisoning or radiation. Don't worry about your grandchildren: The more radioactive something is, the faster it decays. This is just what it means to be radioactive.

That means, on one end, that the natural uranium-reserves near Hong Kong can last billions more years, but they are not dangerous. On the other end, the radiation of Hiroshima dropped by a factor of a million in a week.
Essentially, if it is dangerous but not instantly deadly now, it will not be dangerous next year. That doesn't even count the rain's regular cleaning of toxic materials from fields (by washing them out to sea). There is still some radiation at Chernobyl, though apparently there should not have been if the place were untouched. I suspect the Soviets used the site for dumping spent fuel and didn't bother with safety-measures as it was evacuated anyways, keeping the radiation high.

Also, a nuclear spill is far from the worst possible. Try toxic gases like in the Bhopal disaster. Estimates put that death toll from that spill on par with Japan's entire losses from the earthquake and tsunami.