Researchers found radioactive metal along the coast of British Columbia, Canada believed to be linked to the Fukushima nuclear disaster in Japan. The discovery is causing alarm about the long-term impact of radiation on the west coast of North America.
A soil sample examined from Kilby Provincial Park, near Agassiz, British Columbia revealed radioactive cesium 134, evidence of further disastrous consequences from Fukushima. The radioactivity was transported by both air and ocean water.
In the revealing news story, adjunct professor in the school of resource and environmental management at Simon Fraser University, Juan Jose Alava expressed his concern that this is an international issue.
Cesium 134 has a half-life of two years (after two years, the radioactivity is reduced by half). According to the reports, its presence in the soil samples tested indicates continued radioactive contamination from Fukushima. The university is now assessing chinook, sockeye, and chum spawning salmon in the area for evidence of radiation. Simon Fraser University scientists are also in the midst of assessing the soil from Burnaby Mountain near Vancouver to determine whether there is radiation and, if so, how much.
The news has also raised concerns that the Canadian government has left the burden of monitoring on non-governmental organizations, academia, and private citizens. In this case, the soil sample was provided by a citizen, Aki Sano, who gave the soil sample to Simon Fraser University.
Scientists also detected small amounts of cesium 137, which may be even more of a threat. Radioactive cesium 137 is a more persistent form of radiation than cesium 134, with the potential to cause greater damage to both humans and marine life since it has a much larger half-life; it takes 30 years to reduce to half. The result is bioaccumulation in the environment and food chain.
Researchers created a model based on detected levels of cesium 137 as well as killer whale eating patterns. Using that model, they anticipate that levels of cesium 137 in whales off Vancouver Island will exceed Canadian guidelines in 30 years. The amount predicted may also exceed the Japanese guidelines by 10 times. While the study is not a guarantee of what will happen, it does spark concern among the scientific community.
Previous research by associate professor of chemistry, Kris Starosta and colleagues, also at SFU, indicated the presence of iodine 131 in rainwater and seaweed off Vancouver Island. Its half-life is eight days.
While there is an obvious concern for the potential impact on human immune and hormonal systems, there is also concern for endangered killer whales that already face many other obstacles, including: harassment from whale watchers, climate change, underwater noise pollution, habitat degradation, and the need for about 500 pounds of fish daily.
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