The U.S. federal drinking water standard for radioactive Iodine-131 is 3 picocuries per liter, but levels exceeding that by many times have been detected in rainwater sampled in California, Idaho, Minnesota, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Massachusetts.
Radioactivity has also been found in milk from Spokane, Washington.
Safe Levels of Radiation?
The government says there is
no danger, as the exposure is only short-term, and federal drinking
water standards assume a constant level of radiation over the course of a
year. In addition, not all of the radiation from the rainwater will end
up in the drinking water supply. So - say federal and state governments
- there is no danger from short-term exposure to such levels of
So that means it's safe, right?
Well, as I pointed out recently:
Physicians for Social Responsibility notes:
According to the National Academy of Sciences, there are no safe doses of radiation. Decades of research show clearly that any dose of radiation increases an individual’s risk for the development of cancer.
is no safe level of radionuclide exposure, whether from food, water or
other sources. Period,” said Jeff Patterson, DO, immediate past
president of Physicians for Social Responsibility. “Exposure to
radionuclides, such as iodine-131 and cesium-137, increases the
incidence of cancer. For this reason, every effort must be taken to
minimize the radionuclide content in food and water.”
food containing radionuclides is particularly dangerous. If an
individual ingests or inhales a radioactive particle, it continues to
irradiate the body as long as it remains radioactive and stays in the
body,”said Alan H. Lockwood, MD, a member of the Board of Physicians for
Radiation can be concentrated
many times in the food chain and any consumption adds to the
cumulative risk of cancer and other diseases.
John LaForge notes:
National Council on Radiation Protection says, “… every increment of
radiation exposure produces an incremental increase in the risk of
cancer.” The Environmental Protection Agency says, “… any exposure to
radiation poses some risk, i.e. there is no level below which we can say
an exposure poses no risk.” The Department of Energy says about “low
levels of radiation” that “… the major effect is a very slight
increase in cancer risk.” The Nuclear Regulatory Commission says, “any
amount of radiation may pose some risk for causing cancer ... any
increase in dose, no matter how small, results in an incremental
increase in risk.” The National Academy of Sciences, in its
“Biological Effects of Ionizing Radiation VII,” says, “... it is
unlikely that a threshold exists for the induction of cancers ....”
story short, “One can no longer speak of a ‘safe’ dose level,” as Dr.
Ian Fairlie and Dr. Marvin Resnikoff said in their report “No dose
too low,” in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists.
And Brian Moench, MD, writes:
spokespeople continuously claim "no threat" from the radiation
reaching the US from Japan, just as they did with oil hemorrhaging into
the Gulf. Perhaps we should all whistle "Don't worry, be happy" in
unison. A thorough review of the science, however, begs a second
That the radiation is being released 5,000 miles away
isn't as comforting as it seems.... Every day, the jet stream carries
pollution from Asian smoke stacks and dust from the Gobi Desert to our
West Coast, contributing 10 to 60 percent of the total pollution
breathed by Californians, depending on the time of year. Mercury is
probably the second most toxic substance known after plutonium. Half
the mercury in the atmosphere over the entire US originates in China.
It, too, is 5,000 miles away. A week after a nuclear weapons test in
China, iodine 131 could be detected in the thyroid glands of deer in
Colorado, although it could not be detected in the air or in nearby
The idea that a threshold exists or
there is a safe level of radiation for human exposure began unraveling
in the 1950s when research showed one pelvic x-ray in a pregnant woman
could double the rate of childhood leukemia in an exposed baby. Furthermore,
the risk was ten times higher if it occurred in the first three
months of pregnancy than near the end. This became the stepping-stone
to the understanding that the timing of exposure was even more
critical than the dose. The earlier in embryonic development it
occurred, the greater the risk.
A new medical
concept has emerged, increasingly supported by the latest research,
called "fetal origins of disease," that centers on the evidence that a
multitude of chronic diseases, including cancer, often have their
origins in the first few weeks after conception by environmental
insults disturbing normal embryonic development. It is now established
medical advice that pregnant women should avoid any exposure to
x-rays, medicines or chemicals when not absolutely necessary, no
matter how small the dose, especially in the first three months.
is a term integral to fetal origins of disease, referring to chemical
attachments to genes that turn them on or off inappropriately and
have impacts functionally similar to broken genetic bonds. Epigenetic
changes can be caused by unimaginably small doses - parts per trillion
- be it chemicals, air pollution, cigarette smoke or radiation.
Furthermore, these epigenetic changes can occur within minutes after
exposure and may be passed on to subsequent generations.
Endocrine Society, 14,000 researchers and medical specialists in more
than 100 countries, warned that "even infinitesimally low levels of
exposure to endocrine-disrupting chemicals, indeed, any level of
exposure at all, may cause endocrine or reproductive abnormalities,
particularly if exposure occurs during a critical developmental window.
Surprisingly, low doses may even exert more potent effects than
higher doses." If hormone-mimicking chemicals at any level are not
safe for a fetus, then the concept is likely to be equally true of the
even more intensely toxic radioactive elements drifting over from
Japan, some of which may also act as endocrine disruptors.
epidemiologic studies show that extremely low doses of radiation
increase the incidence of childhood cancers, low birth-weight babies,
premature births, infant mortality, birth defects and even diminished
intelligence. Just two abdominal x-rays delivered to a male can
slightly increase the chance of his future children developing leukemia.
By damaging proteins anywhere in a living cell, radiation can
accelerate the aging process and diminish the function of any organ.
Cells can repair themselves, but the rapidly growing cells in a fetus
may divide before repair can occur, negating the body's defense
mechanism and replicating the damage.
statements about the safety of low radiation are not even accurate for
adults. Small increases in risk per individual have immense
consequences in the aggregate. When low risk is accepted for billions
of people, there will still be millions of victims. New research on
risks of x-rays illustrate the point.
from CT coronary scans is considered low, but, statistically, it
causes cancer in one of every 270 40-year-old women who receive the
scan. Twenty year olds will have double that rate. Annually, 29,000
cancers are caused by the 70 million CT scans done in the US. Common,
low-dose dental x-rays more than double the rate of thyroid cancer.
Those exposed to repeated dental x-rays have an even higher risk of
with Madam Curie, the story of nuclear power is one where key players
have consistently miscalculated or misrepresented the risks of
radiation. The victims include many of those who worked on the
original Manhattan Project, the 200,000 soldiers who were assigned to
eye witness our nuclear tests, the residents of the Western US who
absorbed the lion's share of fallout from our nuclear testing in
Nevada, the thousands of forgotten victims of Three Mile Island or the
likely hundreds of thousands of casualties of Chernobyl. This could
be the latest chapter in that long and tragic story when, once again,
we were told not to worry.
Proponents of nuclear energy and nuclear weapons argue that we can't eliminate all man-made
radioactivity, that nuclear power and weapons are good, and that we
need standards to promote a logical cost-benefit analysis.
But as I noted last week, the current standards are misleading:
There are, of course, naturally occurring radioactive materials.
But lumping all types of radiation together is misleading ... and is comparing apples to oranges.
the National Research Council's Committee to Assess the Scientific
Information for the Radiation Exposure Screening and Education Program explains:
Radioactivity generates radiation by emitting particles. Radioactive materials outside the the body are called external emitters, and radioactive materials located within the body are called internal emitters.
emitters are much more dangerous than external emitters. Specifically,
one is only exposed to radiation as long as he or she is near the external emitter.
For example, when you get an x-ray, an external emitter is turned on for an instant, and then switched back off.
internal emitters steadily and continuously emit radiation for as long
as the particle remains radioactive, or until the person dies -
whichever occurs first. As such, they are much more dangerous.
is important to note that each individual internal emitters behaves
differently. They each accumulate in different places in the body,
target different organs, mimic different vitamins and minerals, and are
excreted differently (or not at all). Therefore, comparing radioactive
cesium or iodine with naturally occurring radioactive substances -
even those which can become internal emitters - is incorrect and
the Fukushima accident we have seen a stream of experts on radiation
telling us not to worry, that the doses are too low, that the accident
is nothing like Chernobyl and so forth. They appear on television and
we read their articles in the newspapers and online. Fortunately the
majority of the public don't believe them.
receiving a course of radiotherapy usually get a dose of more than
20,000 mSv to vital healthy tissue close to the treated tumour. This
tissue survives only because the treatment is spread over many days
giving healthy cells time for repair or replacement. A sea-change is
needed in our attitude to radiation, starting with education and public
External irradiation is not the
problem. The problem is internal irradiation. The Iodine-131 is not in
the whole body, it is in the thyroid gland and attached to the blood
cells: hence the thyroid cancer and the leukaemia. And there is a whole
list of internal radioactive elements that bind chemically to DNA, from
Strontium-90 to Uranium. These give massive local doses to the DNA and
to the tissues where they end up. The human body is not a piece of
wire that you can apply physics to. The concept of dose which
[Pollyannas use] cannot be used for internal exposures. This has been
conceded by the ICRP itself in its publications. And in an interview
with me in Stockholm in 2009, Dr Jack Valentin, the ex-Scientific
Secretary of the ICRP conceded this, and also made the statement that
the ICRP risk model, the one used by all governments to assess the
outcome of accidents like Fukushima, was unsafe and could not be used.
You can see this interview on the internet, on www.vimeo.com.
is the ICRP model unsafe? Because it is based on "absorbed dose". This
is average radiation energy in Joules divided by the mass of living
tissue into which it is diluted. A milliSievert is one milliJoule of
energy diluted into one kilogram of tissue. As such it would not
distinguish between warming yourself in front of a fire and eating a
red hot coal. It is the local distribution of energy that is the
problem. The dose from a singly internal alpha particle track to a
single cell is 500mSv! The dose to the whole body from the same alpha
track is 5 x 10-11 mSv. That is 0.000000000005mSv. But it is the dose to the cell that causes the genetic damage and the ultimate cancer.
The cancer yield per unit dose employed by ICRP is based entirely on
external acute high dose radiation at Hiroshima, where the average dose
to a cell was the same for all cells.
last thing [proponents of nuclear weapons and nuclear energy] wanted
was the doctors and epidemiologists stopping their fun. The IAEA and
the World Health Organisation (WHO) signed an agreement in 1959 to
remove all research into the issue from the doctors of the WHO, to the
atom scientists, the physicists of the IAEA: this agreement is still in
force. The UN organisations do not refer to, or cite any scientific
study, which shows their statements on Chernobyl to be false. There is a
huge gap between the picture painted by the UN, the IAEA, the ICRP and
the real world. And the real world is increasingly being studied and
reports are being published in the scientific literature: but none of
the authorities responsible for looking after the public take any notice
of this evidence.
The Politics Behind the "Science"
I wrote to professor Busby and
asked him if the faulty standards - based on external emitters - applied
to radiation standards for drinking water, milk and food as well. Specifically, I asked:
the current "safe levels" of radioactivity set by governments for
drinking water, milk and food based upon external emitters? Or upon
internal emitters? I know that the Committee Examining Radiation Risks
of Internal Emitters (CERRIE) [an independent Committee established by
the UK Government in 2001, in which Dr. Busby participated] looked at
this issue, but I can't figure out whether governments ever changed
their "safe" levels for food and beverages based on internal emitter
I mentioned the radioactive iodine found in rainwater in the U.S. and
pointed out that the Canadian government is refusing to test milk for
radiation - which is guaranteed to create internal emitters of any
radiation when we drink it - based on the statement that radiation
levels in the air are not all that high:
Dr. Busby responded:
current risk model is based upon external acute radiation at high dose
rate, the Japanese A-Bomb [i.e. from measurements of the effect of
external radiation on the residents of Hiroshima and Nagasaki]. It is
incorrect for internal and this was discussed at CERRIE but the
implications were so alarming that the government sacked the Environment
minister Michael Meacher who set up the committee and shut it down
before it had finished (or even started) the research it was doing and
also brought legal threats to bear on members so the final report is a
whitewash, even though it concedes the problem exists and that the error
may be as high at 10-fold. In fact, there is plenty of data and
studies that show the error is from 500 to upwards of 1000. But this is
not for all radionuclides, only some. The ECRR (www.euradcom.org) has
studied this issue and provided risk model for internal emitters.
Dr. Busby explained that the standards for radioiodine are about 20 times higher than they should be when it will be taken inside the body, and for certain radioactive particulates, up to 1,000 times higher than is safe.
Note: Even though current standards are way too high, the EPA is trying to raise the current standards much higher. Just as with the Gulf oil spill and other environmental (and economic) problems, governments are fudging the "science" (and suppressing basic information) to fit a political agenda.