Sunday, February 16, 2014

Radionuclides in Our Food NOT Safe, At Any Level

Enenews has a worrying headline based on data from the California Department of Public Health: 
Gov’t Test: Cattle feed at California dairy farm had 300 pCi/kg of radioactive cesium after Fukushima; 9-month gap between when sample harvested and when received by lab — New UC Berkeley study reveals over 3,500 pCi/kg of cesium deposited on nearby roadside
The headline is sourced with two citations:

A.R. Smith, K.J. Thomas, E.B. Norman, D.L. Hurley, B.T. Lo, Y.D. Chan, P.V. Guillaumon, B.G. Harvey Measurements of Fission Products from the Fukushima Daiichi Incident in San Francisco Bay Area Air Filters, Automobile Filters, Rainwater, and Food, (Submitted on 27 Dec 2013) Cornell University Library,

[abstract] A variety of environmental media were analyzed for fallout radionuclides resulting from the Fukushima nuclear accident by the Low Background Facility (LBF) at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBNL) in Berkeley, CA. Monitoring activities in air and rainwater began soon after the onset of the March 11, 2011 tsunami and are reported here through the end of 2012. Observed fallout isotopes include 131I, 132I,132Te,134Cs, 136Cs, and 137Cs. Isotopes were measured on environmental air filters, automobile filters, and in rainwater. An additional analysis of rainwater in search of 90Sr is also presented. Last, a series of food measurements conducted in September of 2013 are included due to extended media concerns of 134,137Cs in fish. Similar measurements of fallout from the Chernobyl disaster at LBNL, previously unpublished publicly, are also presented here as a comparison with the Fukushima incident. All measurements presented also include natural radionuclides found in the environment to provide a basis for comparison.

Majia here: The second source is a State of California Depart of Public Health report from the Drinking Water and Radiation Laboratory Branch, titled ‘FINAL Analysis Results Report for Task ID. N12-0023.

The study and public health report both found detectable amounts of radiocesium, among other radionuclides, in a variety of samples. 

How come the EPA and FDA have not issued alerts since there are radionuclides that emit beta, alpha, and gamma radiation (perhaps neutron as well) in our food?

The answers are complex, but it is important to recognize that governments allow what is commonly referred to as a ‘permissible dose’ of genotoxic radionuclides and other elements, including lead, in our food.

The permissible dose is NOT ‘the safe dose.’ There is NO safe level of exposure to radionuclides and toxic metals. The permissible dose concept was a compromise position between Atomic Energy Commission scientists and early geneticists who argued any additional increase in radionuclide exposure creates additional risks, especially for the youngest among us.

Government protective action guidelines are compromises and their very constitution is shaped with ambiguity that allows for discretion on the part of those doing testing.

It is instructive to note that even the most stringent regulatory standards are often based on risk coefficient tables that presume risk can be predicted on the basis of exposure to a single radioactive isotope. For example:

For both internal and external exposure, a risk coefficient for a given radionuclide is based on the assumption that this is the only radionuclide present in the environmental medium. That is, doses due to decay chain members produced in the environment prior to the intake of, or external exposure to, the radionuclides are not considered.[i]

This model of dose-effects taken from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) assumes a vacuum where exposure is limited to a single radioisotope. The model’s predictions for dose-effects do not incorporate cumulative and synergistic effects.

Now let us return to the Enenews story about the state of California report reporting that ‘cattle feed at California dairy farm had 300 pCi/kg of radioactive cesium’ in the wake of Fukushima and that milk had lower traces of both radioiodine and radiocesium.

These quantities are considered allowable within permissible dose guidelines. Milk is regulated in the US by the FDA. You can read the FDA’s guidelines on radionuclides in food here:

The specific Derived Intervention Levels are here:

The specific “FDA derived intervention level or criterion for each radionuclide group” are as follows “for all components of the diet” for Strontium 90, Iodine 131 and Plutonium 238 and 239
Sr-90 160 Bq/kg
I-131 170 Bq/kg
Cs-134 + 137 1200 Bq/kg
Pu-238 + Pus 239 + Am 241 is 2 Bq/kg

These guidelines state that the “alternate units for milk” in picocuries per liter are the following:
SR-90 4400
I-131 4700
Cs-134 + Cs-137 33,000

NOTE: The FDA stipulates under its chart the following comment:

“The DIL for each radionuclide group is applied independently (see discussion in Appendix D). Each DIL applies to the sum of the concentrations of the radionuclides in the group at the time of measurement.”  [end]

Majia here: Cs-134 + Cs-137 33,000 picocuries a liter in milk is considered safe "safe" only because it doesn't calculate the individual’s body-burden of radiation and it assumes that exposure is the only radio-toxic one in the immediate environment.

Unfortunately I couldn’t find appendix D online anywhere at the FDA website to explain what public health authorities should do when multiple radionculides are detected. For example, would a sample with the following results be considered ‘safe’ if each radionuclide measured below or was at the DIL?

Hypothetical Milk Sample
SR-90 4400
I-131 4700
Cs-134 + Cs-137 33,000

My guess is that the hypothetical sample safety assessment would entail reductive consideration of each discrete radionuclide measurement. Under this framework of analysis, the hypothetical sample would be assessed safe because the guidelines don’t indicate what to do when other radionuclides are present also.

Decision makers concerned about public panic and/or food shortages could avoid the problem of ‘summative measurement assessment’ of multiple radionuclides by only measuring one or two radionuclides for each sample– e.g., exclusively measure radiocesium.

Meanwhile children drinking the milk are bio-accumulating many different radionuclides in their bodies as radioiodine, radiocesium, strontium, and uranium in milk absorbed and stored in the body as analogs of iodine, potassium, and calcium.

Radioiodine causes thyroid cancer and disrupts the endocrine system. Potassium is stored in muscle, including the heart. Strontium is stored in bones and in the brain’s calcium-ion channel reservoirs. Uranium is not simply radioactive, but is also highly toxic, especially to the kidneys and is believed to contribute significantly to inflammation and immune system dysfunction.[ii]

Living in radiation contaminated zones – even zones characterized as ‘low dose’ --  produces higher incidents of auto-immune disorders, cancers, cardiac disease, mitochondrial mutations, and birth defects.  

The FDA’s exposure guidelines imply false reassurances based on models that do not represent real-world conditions.

The permissible dose levels lack ecological validity in their estimates of cancer and other diseases caused by radiation exposure (see chapter four in my book Fukushima and the Privatization of Risk).

Real world chemical and radiation effects for flora and fauna are impacted by bioaccumulation and exposure interactions.  Bioaccumulation is ‘the biological sequestering of a substance at a higher concentration than that at which it occurs in the surrounding environment or medium.’[iii] Biomagnification is defined as ‘the sequence of processes in an ecosystem by which higher concentrations of a particular chemical, such as the pesticide DDT, are reached in organisms higher up the food chain, generally through a series of prey-predator relationships.’ Biomagnification results from bioaccumulation and biotransfer whereby ‘tissue concentrations of chemicals in organisms at one trophic level exceed tissue concentrations in organisms at the next lower trophic level in a food chain.’[iv]

Takashi Hirose provides an example of the implications of biomagnification processes in his book, Fukushima Meltdown, using actual radioactivity concentration data from the Columbia River: Assuming a river water concentration of radiation from the Hanford nuclear plant of one, the egg yolk of a water bird living by the river would be 1,000,000 times more concentrated.[v] Humans that consume meat, milk, and eggs are at the top of the food chain and therefore will accumulate significant levels of contamination over the course of their lifetime. The impact of bio-contamination is also affected synergistically by the presence of other radioisotopes and chemicals. It can be difficult to predict exposure interactions given the complex synergies of bio-accumulation processes.

Genetic damage and epigenetic changes to gene expression can be transmitted across generations. Each person inherits the totality of genetic damage and epigenetic changes to their parents’ germ-line, or reproductive cells. Consequently, even the most precautionary risk assessments may understate real world risks from exposure by failing to account for cumulative and synergistic effects.

Radionuclides in our food are not safe, at any level.


[i] Environmental Protection Agency (1999) Cancer Risk Coefficients for Environmental Exposure to Radionuclides: Federal Guidance Report No.13,, date accessed 25 November 2012.

[ii] Esther, Erdei, et al (2013) Immune System Responses Related to Environmental Uranium Exposures ? DiNEH Project Results, Environment and Health,

[iii] U.S. Geological Survey (2011) Bioaccumulation,, date accessed 2 August 2012.

[iv] U.S. Geological Survey (2011) Biomagnification,, date accessed 2 August 2012.

[v] T. Hirose (2011) Fukushima Meltdown (Osaka, Japan: Asahi Shinsho Books), p. 73.


EPA Sets Disturbing Precedent by Walking Away from Contaminated Zone


Introduction to Majia's Blog and Index of Posts Here

October 2013 Interview with James Fetzer about my book, Fukushima and the Privatization of Risk (Palgrave, 2013)

PowerPoint of data examining reports of conditions at the plant and evidence of criticalities, which can be seen here  or here



  1. Great point....multiple source radio isotopes....hmmmm, seems like they would be synergistic, in a bad way.

  2. Sometimes like today I shop at Whole Foods (Colorado). I now discuss radioactivity with the employees--like the cheese lady. The sort of people who shop there tend to be upper middle class and health conscious. So we have many minds here in Boulder County reading and hearing things and depositing some of them where they buy food. I now scrutinize the produce--where is it from? When will buying sardines or tuna in cans be unsafe?--perhaps already. How about these berries and mushrooms?--favorite domiciles for hot particles. Etc. What I am doing is a kind of casual research which can draw on lots of persons. At some point Whole Foods will have to publicly address this or the CA stuff will go unsold. And many other items. More and careful labeling will be necessary. This is a pressure anyone can bring to bear!!

    1. The problem is lack of testing.

      What I wish would occur is fully transparent testing for radionuclides and toxic elements in our food.

      The full market failure of nuclear would be clear if people saw that their food is contaminated.

  3. I stopped eating beef a couple of months ago.
    A Japanese man enlightened me concerning industry practices last year on Bobby's blog.

    Pork has long been taboo. Am not Jewish. Not denying holocaust, any of them.

    Mushrooms has been an issue that i've led by example with my extended and immediate family members. I refuse to eat any, and have for a couple of years or so. They are starting to figure it out.

    I have sworn off California produce of all kinds long ago, and either by Hothouse varieties, or produce from the southern hemisphere.

    I do eat a lot of bananas with 40K, which has a half-life of what, a billion years or so? Now if only i could find a clean source of Calcium, Iron and Magnesium.

    Looking forward to my "indoor grow-op" of vegetables.
    Finding & growing clean soil & especially water will be challenges.

    Recently, all in my classroom were sick, except myself and one other. I refused to shy away from any that were sick, even taking a long road trip with one with windows closed. Still didn't get sick.

    I have not yet even begun to fight!