Bay Area water tested for radiation

March 30, 2011 7:15:13 PM PDT
More radiation from the Japan disaster is being detected in the U.S. and now they've found trace amounts in Bay Area rivers and even milk. But experts are very clear it's not dangerous.

"We want to see what kind of pollution do you see, and where does it go,"

An alarmist would be worried after last week's rains, because at UC Berkeley, testing shows the presence of iodine, cesium, and tularium that have made their way through the jet stream from Japan to U.S. shores. The pollution also in our air has diluted into runoff and there are minute traces in our milk.

At UC Berkeley, researchers Kai Vetter and Dr. Dan Chivers know this because they have set up a series of collectors and monitors, but they are not concerned.

"The amount of radiation we see is extremely small," Vetter said.

"Thousands of times less than what we see every day in the environment," Chivers said.

But the fact that they see any traces at all concerns many average people, who hear the word 'radiation' and want to run for cover. In reality, scientists detect these traces because their equipment is extremely sensitive, and these results come after reassurances that none of the pollutants would enter the jet stream.

"Well they attach to other aerosols and particles that make it into the stratosphere," Vetter said.

From there, they will spread across the planet as any other pollutants. The good news is that iodine has a half life of eight days and tularium, even less. Cesium lives for about 30 years, but the trace levels are so small compared to everyday background radiation, that they are inconsequential. A person would have to drink 500 liters of creek water to equal the radiation exposure of one, round trip cross country airline journey.

"In fact, we will probably see this in a month or so and it will be below our detectable limits," Chivers said.

What they can't see and barely measure won't hurt you.


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