Risk to U.S. from Japan radiation low, expert says

March 29, 2011 — A radiation expert at Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH), says that radiation leakage from the continuing nuclear disaster in Japan poses little risk to the U.S. Edward Maher, adjunct lecturer on environmental science, told AOL’s DailyFinance.com on March 23, 2011, “These risks are mitigated by … the great distance away the U.S. is from the accident site. After being dispersed and diluted by 6,000 miles of atmosphere and the mighty Pacific Ocean, respectively, neither airborne or seawater concentrations will be a threat to the U.S. mainland.” By the time any radiation reaches the West Coast, the concentrations “will be either be indistinguishable from background radiation or so low in concentration as to have  no health impact to our citizens,” he says. In addition, he says, the U.S. government regulates the amount of radioactivity food and water can contain and still be considered safe.

On March 27, 2011, Massachusetts health officials reported finding low levels of radioactive iodine in a rainwater sample collected over the last week. (See DPH press release for details.)The Massachusetts detection of elevated radioiodine in rainwater is to be expected given the high sensitivity of nuclear detection technology, but these reported levels are too low to have an impact on health,” Maher says.

According to a Boston Globe article on the Massachusetts rainwater finding, radioiodine is a byproduct of nuclear energy production and has a half-life of eight days. The half-life span means that only half of the level of radiation will be present in eight days, until it dissipates. Massachusetts health officials said on a daily basis, Americans are exposed to radiation from sources like the sun, rocks, and bricks with doses that are about 100,000 times higher than what has been detected in the U.S. coming from Japan. Air samples so far in Massachusetts have not shown any detectable radiation.

Maher is president of the Health Physics Society, a nonprofit scientific professional organization established in 1956 to promote the practice of radiation safety. He has more than 30 years of experience conducting and managing radiological, safety, and environmental protection programs applicable to commercial nuclear entities and federal agencies such as the U.S. Departments of  Energy and Defense.

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