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Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Radiation from Fukushima, in Seattle

Posted by on Wed, Mar 23, 2011 at 6:55 PM

As many of you have probably already read, trace amounts of radioactive elements from the Fukushima nuclear disaster have been detected in EPA air filters in Seattle (as well as other West coast US cities):

- Filter results for Seattle, Wash. found:
Cesium-137: 0.00045
Tellurium-132: 0.0034
Iodine-132: 0.0029
Iodine-131: 0.013

The units there are picocuries per meter cubed. (Note to the EPA: Could you please, pretty please with sugar on top, use SI units when describing radiation? You're scientists. As much as I love converting Curies to Bq—and who doesn't—I'd love you even more if you'd join the rest of the world.)

What does this mean? From a practical standpoint, there isn't really any health risk from this tiny of an amount of radiation. The basil you might be growing in your windowsill—or more importantly, the milk and eggs you might be eating from Washington, Oregon and California—are unlikely to absorb enough of these radioactive elements to pose a health risk to anyone, child or adult.

(I've spent a lot of time this week, reading over the data from the Chernobyl disaster and above-ground nuclear tests to be able to write a sentence like that and sleep at night. After the jump is a bit of my work...)

From Chernobyl, only exposure to radioactive Iodine, I-131, has been associated with increased cancer risk. For towns and cities where this increased risk was observed, the contamination by I-131 was higher, millions of times higher, than we're seeing here in Seattle.

As a service to you, allow me to provide you a helpful table on this point—including Tula, Russia, a town that had cases of Thyroid cancer epidemiologically linked to the Chernobyl disaster:

PlaceI-131 Bq per square meter
Tokyo, Japan40
Gunma, Japan190
Tochigi, Japan540
Tula, Russia50,000

Now, the data we're getting from the EPA is not directly comparable to this: The EPA is giving us data on the amount in the air, these numbers are for the amounts found on the ground.

Converting from picocuries to Bq: 0.013 pCi equals 481 microBq. 481 microBq per cubed-meter is a tiny amount of radioactive Iodine compared to what Tula, Russia was exposed to—millions of times less. Hence, my being reassured at this moment.


Comments (23) RSS

Oldest First Unregistered On Registered On Add a comment
thank you. i've much appreciated your crunching of data- I've shared your posts with my Seattle transplant friends here in SD all week. Goldy - you've also been a great source (alarmist? please, it's nuclear-meltdown-wtf!). props (do people still say that?)
Posted by anewlow on March 23, 2011 at 7:31 PM · Report this
another excellent post. thank you.
Posted by philosophy school dropout on March 23, 2011 at 7:50 PM · Report this
Geraldo Riviera 3
This is all well and good, but we should be at 0 caesium-137. There is no natural reason this shit should be in Seattle. Im not going to be naturally picking this up from a fucking brick or a plane ride.
Posted by Geraldo Riviera on March 23, 2011 at 8:30 PM · Report this
Geraldo, you must believe in homeopathy. Just like in that quackery, the amount of bad stuff in Seattle is so infinitesimal that it's highly unlikely that there's even a single atom of Cs-137 or I-131 on the brick you pick up.
Posted by N in Seattle on March 23, 2011 at 9:27 PM · Report this
Sargon Bighorn 5
Oh great, just what we need along with Global Warming, Alien invasions, ecosystems collapsing, gas prices on the rise, republicans in control, Home prices falling, aliens on our door step (did I mention aliens?), Klingons wanting to enslave us, and the fridge out of beer. Gheeezuz it's time to move to another planet.
Posted by Sargon Bighorn on March 23, 2011 at 9:27 PM · Report this
Kapow 6
Online Calculator for this. If someone is interested. They said there would be no maths tonight.…
Posted by Kapow on March 23, 2011 at 9:29 PM · Report this
"As much as I love converting Curies to Bq—and who doesn't"

I can't quantify how much pleasure I received from that phrase, but it would have to be measured in teras.
Posted by Donna on March 23, 2011 at 9:46 PM · Report this
prompt 8
America is curies and REM, which, interestingly enough, is actually based on metric measurements. 1 REM is 1 rad of gamma radiation, which is 100ergs in 1 gram of biological material. The more you know.
Posted by prompt on March 23, 2011 at 9:53 PM · Report this
Kapow 9
If it makes anyone feel better you can convert those things into Rutherfords, and who doesn't love a few Rutherfords every now and then.
Posted by Kapow on March 23, 2011 at 9:54 PM · Report this
svensken 10

I think you both are missing the point. This is a form of invasion, someone else's mistake has invaded our country and health.

How would you feel if I came into your house to inject some minuscule amounts of radiation into your family? Violated? Naked? Helpless? Pissed off?
Posted by svensken on March 23, 2011 at 10:10 PM · Report this
Can you tell us how long the radiation leaks from the Fukushima reactors would have to continue at present levels to pose a health risk here? A month? Three months? A year?
Posted by Jason Pee on March 23, 2011 at 10:34 PM · Report this
Catalina Vel-DuRay 12
Well, Svensken, as I understand it, those are good, old-fashioned GE nuclear reactors, designered here in the USA, warts & all. If true, it's not really as simple as all that, no?
Posted by Catalina Vel-DuRay on March 23, 2011 at 10:48 PM · Report this
WFM 13
Iodine, such a distraction. What about fluoride in the drinking water? What about that? A foreign substance is introduced into our precious bodily fluids without the knowledge of the individual. I feel a profound sense of fatigue...
Posted by WFM on March 23, 2011 at 11:11 PM · Report this
Fnarf 14
Many of you seem to be operating under the delusion that there's never been any radiation leaks in this country, or that Three Mile Island was the extent of it. TMI was nothing; hardly any radiation at all. In contrast, we have ongoing radioactive waste leaking from Hanford into the Columbia River, and I just learned about this lovely little gem: Santa Susita labs.

Just outside LA, in the hills above the San Fernando Valley, this NASA/Department of Energy lab had open reactors with no containment dome, and a rich history of completely insane waste handling. Up until the 1990s, they used to BURN THE STUFF, right there on the ground in open bonfires -- toxic waste and spent nuclear junk, sending spectacular black clouds of toxic evil skyward. They used to take barrels of toxic waste and shoot them with rifles, causing them to explode -- IN THE 1990s.

They also had several more serious radiation meltdowns and leaks; in 1959 it melted down REPEATEDLY, sending waves of radiation -- at least 400 times as much as TMI -- over the San Fernando Valley. They cleaned it up with, yes, really, sponges, mops, and sanitary napkins.

They also dumped an estimated half a million gallons of trichoroethylene into the ground. Current cleanup efforts are removing ten gallons from the site per year. Hey, only 49,999 to go! It, and perchlorate, are in the water supply in Simi Valley.

Of course there are 20 million people just downwind of those radiation leaks and big black plumes of burning waste.

For some idiotic reason Boeing purchased this flaming hot shithole in 1996, possibly because they wanted to blow up some of their own barrels, and now they're partly on the hook for cleaning it up, along with the state, DOE, NASA, and CEPA. This cleanup will never happen.

I guarantee more Slog readers have run across toxic particles from this clusterfuck than from anything happening in Japan, ever.……
Posted by Fnarf on March 23, 2011 at 11:17 PM · Report this
So what about months of continued exposure from radioactive particles and isotopes coming from japan at this level? Also, we're not out of the woods yet. Reactors 1, 2, 3, and 4 are still in critical condition and if one goes, they all go. If a full meltdown happens across four reactors we will most assuredly be getting more than a quaint dose here.
Posted by Spindles on March 23, 2011 at 11:30 PM · Report this
eclexia 16
The US detonated over a thousand atomic weapons over the 20th century. They were above-ground until 1962.

Posted by eclexia on March 24, 2011 at 12:07 AM · Report this
Timrrr 18
Converting from picocuries to Bq: 0.013 pCi equals 481 microBq. 481 microBq per cubed-meter is a tiny amount of radioactive Iodine compared to what Tula, Russia was exposed to—millions of times less. Hence, my being reassured at this moment.

Not "millions of times less" though -- OVER ONE HUNDRED MILLION times less!

0.013 picocurie = 0.000481 becquerel (Bq)

0.000481 Bq = 1/103,950,104 of the dose at Tula, Russia. Or, in other words, 0.000000962% of the dose epidemiologically linked to cancer.

@11 & 13:
For a sense of scale, this means that you'd have to be exposed to this level of radiation from Fukushima every single day for approximately 284,795 YEARS before it became a serious health problem.

(And I'm pre-e-e-e-e-tty sure something else will get ya before you'll manage to reach the ripe old age of 200,000 years old anyhow!)
Posted by Timrrr on March 24, 2011 at 12:32 AM · Report this
Timrrr 19
Doh! Should be "@11 & 15" up there

And, Jonathan, where'd you get the term "microBq" anyway? (μBq?) I don't think I've ever seen that term before.
Posted by Timrrr on March 24, 2011 at 12:39 AM · Report this
svensken 20
there are many more references to cancer and hanford…
Posted by svensken on March 24, 2011 at 12:44 AM · Report this
18-Radioactive Iodine is by no means the only source of contamination belching out of Daichi. And like I said earlier, full meltdown: fully screwed.
Posted by Spindles on March 24, 2011 at 1:40 AM · Report this
Will in Seattle 22
@19 me either. picocurie usually has a different symbol.
Posted by Will in Seattle on March 24, 2011 at 10:59 AM · Report this
svensken 23

If I build a faulty house that damages yours, am I to blame for never checking or improving the outdated plans or the architect?
Posted by svensken on March 24, 2011 at 12:36 PM · Report this
Glowingblue 25 two and three did melt down and these melted cores are in an unknown location and will remain former in an unknown location. The fuel in four has not meltd, but is not in containment, it's in a pool exposed to open air. And the spent fuel in four contains plutonium, so, it looks like the good old Japanese were running an enrichment operation. Weapons grade, I mean.
Posted by Glowingblue on November 11, 2013 at 4:37 PM · Report this

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