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Traces of Japanese radiation detected in 13 US states

Radiation has been detected in the air or water in 13 states, but 'far below levels of public health concern.' Rainwater is called safe to drink. Massachusetts is monitoring milk supply.

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But even though short-term hikes “do not raise public health concerns” and such levels in rainwater are expected to be relatively short, the EPA said it would increase the monitoring of precipitation, drinking water, and other “potential exposure routes.”

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Milk supply monitored

One key area being watched is the US milk supply. After the Chernobyl meltdown in 1986, it was found that cows had eaten grass tainted by radioactive fallout from the reactor. Concentrated radioiodine in the milk was blamed later for causing health problems in humans who drank it. The Soviet government was blamed for not warning the public.

Similarly, the US government was blamed for downplaying radioactive fallout as a health threat during atmospheric weapons testing in the 1950s and early 1960s. Such experience has translated into a high level of public distrust in many nations, experts say.

“As far as I can tell, the fallout today appears to be orders of magnitude less than it was during weapon testing in the 1950s when weapons-testing fallout occurred all over the country,” says Arjun Makhijani, president of Institute for Energy and Environmental Research in Takoma Park, Md., who has testified to Congress on the nuclear fallout issue. “Still, I would say there is a level of public concern that's high enough right now that the authorities absolutely should be measuring [radiation] levels in milk.”

In a statement Monday, the EPA and Massachusetts authorities said they were monitoring the milk supply at more than 30 stations. Typically this was done only once every three months, but sampling and evaluations were now being done “immediately,” the agency said.

The Food and Drug Administration added in a joint statement with EPA and other agencies that it was unlikely that radiation levels would contaminate milk to any degree that would harm health.

“At this time, theoretical models do not indicate that harmful amounts of radiation will reach the US and, therefore, there is little possibility of domestic milk being contaminated as a result of grass or feed contamination in the US,” the FDA said.

“As part of ongoing federal safety requirements, there is regular testing of milk and other selected foods for radioactivity and other potential contaminants,” added the Massachusetts Department of Health in the same release. “In initial testing, US EPA found no I-131 in milk products in the US.... This monitoring by the federal officials will continue in Massachusetts and other states.”

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