As reports continue to surface that radioactive particles from Japan’s damaged nuclear reactors have reached the U.S. and may continue to do so, there’s a heightened sense of concern about health risks from exposure to low levels of ionizing radiation.
Some reports in the press and on blog sites have created a perception that this new low-level radiation is somehow the sole, or dominant cancer-causing agent in our environment. On the other hand, the official line from U.S. government agencies is that the measured levels of radioactivity are so low, that it poses no threat to health.
So let us examine for a moment these diametrically opposite positions so you can develop an informed fact-based conclusion and if concerned, take some rational protective measures.
Any amount of radiation exposure could have health effects
There is a large amount of data available on cancer induction caused by high levels of ionizing radiation, mostly from surveys of the survivors of the atomic bombings of Japan in 1945. From these studies and years of scientific research, the principles of radiation dose-effect relationships were established.
This “Linear Dose-Response Model” presumes that any exposure to radiation, no matter how small the dose is, could in principle produce some health effects, whose extent should be in proportion to the total radiation dose absorbed.” (1)
The data does not, however, confirm cancer risks at low levels of radiation. Some radiation biologists postulate a threshold below which the risk is effectively zero; others contend that the risks are disproportionately lower or higher than those predicted by the linear model.
Airborne radioactive particle fallout has been picked up by the jet stream and carried to the U.S. and many other countries. RadNet, the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA’s) monitoring network has, “identified trace amounts of radioactive isotopes consistent with the Japanese nuclear incident,” in the U.S. Data released by the EPA.
Radioactive iodine particles detected as far away as Iceland
The data indicates that Iodine 131 was found in monitoring air filters in Idaho, Las Vegas and Alabama. The Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty Organization (CTBTO) a Vienna based UN body has reported, that they have detected very small amounts of radioactive iodine particles in the air by their monitoring stations as far away as Iceland.
Iodine 131 has a short half life and is an immediate threat if above allowable levels are found in food and it is ingested especially among high risk groups, like, for example, children and pregnant woman.
But the possibility that other radionuclides with longer half lives such as strontium and cesium may spread through our food and water supplies, could add another layer of health risks that should be investigated and identified.
So with the disagreement among scientists adding to the confusion on the health effects of low-level radiation, where does this leave us in making decisions on whether or not to take actions to protect ourselves?
We’re exposed to toxic contaminates and carcinogens daily
First, you have to realize that we live in a world teeming with toxic contaminants in our air, water and food. In addition to radiation, there are numerous other environmental pollutants that are known carcinogens. Given that there are high rates of cancers in the general population it is difficult to determine the extra effect of low-level radiation.
Radon and naturally occurring radiation are found in many areas in the U.S. and are known to increase the incidence of lung cancer. Carcinogenic chemicals such as aromatic hydrocarbons and disinfection by-products are commonly found in drinking water below the allowable levels and are ingested on a daily basis. Hundreds of indoor and outdoor air pollutants including chemicals, allergens, mold and germs find their way into our homes and workplaces contributing to health disorders.
Our overall objective should be taking measures that will protect us from the negative health impacts of bioaccumulation of all of these toxic substances. Most health concerned and holistically oriented individuals who recognize this reality have changed their lifestyles and nutritional habits plus use protective equipment such as air and water filters to make their home environments a safe harbor from environmental toxins.
However, you have to separate the hype and fear marketing from facts when purchasing any equipment that claims to protect you against radioactivity.
A study done by scientists in 1965 on the size of radioactive particles from nuclear weapon tests found that most radioactivity was attached to particles 0.3 to 2.5 microns but some were attached to smaller particles that were aerosoled from the explosion and became airborne.(2)
HEPA filters remove 99.97% of airborne particles
One established method of protecting yourself from breathing in toxic airborne particles is HEPA filtration. The original HEPA filter was designed in the 1940’s and was used in the Manhattan Project to prevent the spread of radioactive contaminants. HEPA is a high efficiency particulate air filter that satisfies standards set by the Dept. of Energy and are capable of removing at least 99.97% of airborne particles down to 0.3 microns in size.
At this point, radioactivity from the Japanese fallout has been reported in rainwater but not in drinking water. However, comprehensive water quality testing of municipal supplied water is only required by the EPA once a year and radioactivity could appear at any time. Also, it is not a requirement to test for many of the potential radionuclides that may impact surface water sources from the Japanese fallout.
Reverse Osmosis filters reduce some types of radioactivity
As far as protection of your drinking water, there are only a few types of filtration devices that have been tested and certified for reduction of radioactive particles. The current available filtration technologies that can deal with radioactivity include; Reverse Osmosis (R.O.) units that have been NSF tested and certified to reduce radium 226 and 228, but not other radionuclides.
R.O. is one of the best filtration technologies for reducing a wide range of water contaminants including heavy metals.
For Uranium, there is a special filtration resin that can be placed in a tank and connected on to your main pipe that will reduce uranium if it is present in your water. Other filtration materials such as cation resins and deionization media may have some ability to reduce certain types of radioactive material. However, no reliable manufacturer will make claims that their equipment will reduce all types of radioactivity. Buyer beware.
(1)Mukherjee,R. and Mircheva, J. Radiobiological effects of Low-level radiation and cancer risks, IAEA Bulletin, 2/1991
(2)Gasiev,Y.I. et al. The size distribution of radioactive particles from nuclear weapon tests and their transport in the atmosphere. Tellus XVIII (1966), 2. Russian
Dr. Speiser is a water quality specialist and health care practitioner with 35 years experience on environmental health issues. He has published numerous scientific articles and developed personal protection products geared towards protecting our health.
You can have your water report evaluated and receive a complimentary filtration recommendation from Dr. Speiser by contacting CWR, Environmental (phone #800-444-3563).
Latest posts by Dr. Roy M. Speiser (see all)
- Low Level Radioactivity and Health Risks - April 23, 2011
- Could Radioactive Fallout from Japan Effect the U.S. Water Supply? - March 18, 2011
- The Dirty Truth about Your Drinking Water - September 25, 2010