Canada’s Land of Milk and Strontium 90

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Canada's Land of Milk and Strontium 90 We live on the Pacific Northwest coast of Canada. By many accounts, our area was particularly hard hit by the radioactive fallout that came directly over to us, in the jet stream, from the triple meltdown and hydrogen explosions at the nuclear power plant at Fukushima Daiichi, Japan, in March of 2011.

In Seattle, it was reported that the air was so contaminated after the accident that people were breathing in five “hot” radioactive particles a day!

The fallout was found to come down heavily in the rain that is so frequent in this rain forest we call home. Initially Simon Fraser University, in British Columbia, detected Iodine 131 in the rainwater on Burnaby Mountain They also found it in the seaweed on the shores of North Vancouver

Eventually we learned that the Air Monitoring Stations on Vancouver Island had picked up Radioactive Iodine 131 at levels 300 times higher than normal background.

A lab in Washington State found levels of radioactive xenon gas 40,000 times higher than normal levels.

So we knew the fallout had reached us. And we knew that there were at least 200 other radioactive substances that came along with the fallout from the nuclear plant accident. What we didn’t know was the level of contamination.

We learned that in California the tuna, milk, pistachios, naval oranges, prunes, wild mushrooms, strawberries, seaweed, beef, kale and spinach had been shown to be contaminated with radioactivity. However, having watched the jet stream patterns, we saw that our area in south western British Columbia was often missed by the atmospheric airflow from Japan.

After the initial study came out from Simon Fraser University, no more radioisotope studies were conducted by the researchers at that university So we set about trying to find out if anyone else was testing for radioactive fallout in Canada.

Health Canada and Canadian Food Inspection Milk Testing

We learned that in May and June of 2011, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) had collaborated with Health Canada (HC) and tested 34 samples of milk from the province of British Columbia.

On their website, they published the Cesium 137 findings as all “below detectible levels.” However their detection level was two becquerel/litre (Bq/l). Simply put, one becquerel is the activity of radioactive material in which one nucleus decays per second. This is a high detection level. In the U.S., Cesium 134 and 137 were being detected at levels as low as 0.05 Bq/l.

The detection level of 2 Bq/li is equivalent to 54 pCi/l because one becquerel is about 27 picocuries. Amazingly, the Canadian sensitivity level to this kind of deadly radiation is 1800 percent higher than the three pCi/l safety limit given for potable water in the United States. Regardless, the CFIA declared that all milk samples were “safe.” But a report that the Cesium levels were below this level of two Bq/l did not give us any comfort at all.

We found out that the reason the government tested milk is because milk is a special marker for radioactivity. Health Canada says that the analysis of the radionuclides in milk samples provides valuable information of the general population’s intake of radionuclides.

That is because, when there are environmental releases of radionuclides, the fallout goes into the air; falls on the grass and gets into the water; builds up in water and in the grass that then becomes hay. Cows ingest this contaminated water and hay. This is how the radionuclides “bio-accumulate” or increase in concentration as they go up the food chain.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), also studies milk EPA states that ,“Milk is a reliable indicator of the general population’s intake of certain radionuclides since it is consumed fresh by a large segment of the population and can contain several of the biologically significant radionuclides that result from environmental releases from nuclear activities.“

We contacted Health Canada to find out if they had tested for any other radionuclides. The head of the National Monitoring Section of the Radiation Surveillance Division of the Radiation Protection Bureau of Health Canada was extremely helpful in answering all our questions.

Canadas Food Guide We found out that CFIA and HC did test 16 of the milk samples for Strontium 90 in May and June of 2011. Although they had not published their findings for Strontium 90, they were willing to provide the numbers when we asked them.

HC was able to detect Strontium 90 at levels as low as 0.0176 Bq/kilogram (kg – which is equivalent to the weight of a litre). Seven of the milk samples were below this level of detection. However they did detect Strontium 90 in 9 of the samples. The highest level found was 0.0435 bq/kg(1.175 pCi/kg).

In spite of this, CFIA and HC concluded that, “As expected, negligible levels of radioactivity were detected along the North American west coast.”

In fact, all levels of the Canadian government continue, to this day, to insist that our food and water is safe But how can say that when they haven’t done any testing since the summer of 2011? How can they say that when they have not tested any other local foods at all?

A very important fact is that the reactors that exploded and melted down at Fukushima have still not been brought under control. They are still giving off huge amounts of radionuclides every minute of every day. The Fukushima Diaichi nuclear power plant continues to be out of control almost two years after the catastrophe began

The plant continues to release massive amounts of radiation into the environment. As of December 27, 2012, according to TEPCO, the company that is running the Fukushima Diaichi plant, 10 MILLION Becquerels of Cesium 134 and 137 is still being released EVERY HOUR from reactors 1,2 and 3.

In February 2013, Dr. Helen Caldicott was quoted as saying:

“This crisis is far from over. Large radioactive releases into the ocean continue, and thousands of tons of radioactive waste are set to be incinerated in cities throughout Japan. And worst of all, Fukushima Daiichi’s building #4, which holds 100 tons of highly radioactive spent fuel, was seriously damaged during the earthquake and could collapse in another large quake. This would cause the fuel pool to burn, releasing even more massive amounts of radiation. All of these have profound medical and public health implications.”

Testing for two months in 2011 and then not doing anymore testing at all while the nuclear plants continue to release so much radioactivity into the environment, into the ocean, into the jet stream, all coming our way, does not seem the best action on the part of an agency whose mandate is the food safety of Canada.

As well, fallout can be very localized, so there is no way of knowing if Health Canada’s test results are reflective of our area’s fallout contamination. Sixteen samples in total, and only in 2011, in no way would be enough to collect the kind of data that would provide a clear picture of any ongoing bio-accumulation and increasing fallout contamination.

CNSC logo The Canadian government’s Radiation Protection Bureau needs to be testing food on the west coast of Canada every week at least as long as this Japanese catastrophe is still not under control.

The bureau really needs to establish a regular system of monitoring our food. That way, when the next nuclear accident happens, they would already be measuring and have a baseline of current normal values. When another accident happens, they would immediately be able to determine if we are being affected.

It is unfortunate; to say the least, that Health Canada and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency stopped testing the local milk in the summer of 2011. If they were to test now, they may well find higher levels of contamination – as we did.

Our Results

After sending many emails and letters to the Canadian government and receiving no information and simply their assurances that we had nothing to worry about, it became clear that, if we wanted to find out if our food was contaminated or not, we had to send our own food samples into a lab certified to test for radionuclides.

Between November of 2011 and May of 2012, we sent six milk samples into the lab to be tested for Cesium 134, Cesium 137, Iodine 131 and Strontium 90.

Most labs in the United States were only testing for Cesium 134 and 137 as these are easily measured radionuclides that could indicate the presence of fallout from Fukushima.

Unfortunately, when we started receiving our sample results back from the lab, we realized that our lab had detection levels for Cesium 134 and 137 that were too high to clearly give us the information we need to truly find out how impacted we have been from the Fukushima fallout.

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  1. Rosa Lopes says:

    Now one has to tell me that there is a high amount of radiation in our food or water as my pets go out and eat grass only to vomit blood after that and go into excruciating pain and not just that . I have noticed that some of my garden plants chard and other plants tasted like chemicals. We are all in big trouble.

  2. James says:

    @Sais Your comments are anecdotal and easy to logically pick apart. Let’s hear some real scientific analysis.

    1) Why does the story need to talk about Fukushima? That is not necessary. You seem to be implying cherry picking.

    2) How would those two 15 year old girls know about their health status of something so subtle? Did they have the appropriate tests performed on them? Where exactly did they live? It’s obvious that nuclear radiation sickness effects can take years to manifest so they may still be affected but not feel any symptoms. Unless you know the details, speaking generally can invalidate all your comments.

    3) If you know anything about statistics, correlations, probabilities as it applies here, it does not imply any certainty about being dead at 50. That is your own faulty logic.

    From your comments, you appear to be a naive believer in the power of science and that what is “known” is safe enough to trust. What you fail to realize is that there is more unknown than is known. Human knowledge is imperfect because nature is infinitely interdependent. We may know a few links in her chain, but most we are ignorant of. We’ve never had widespread radiation that is polluting entire oceans and large portions of the planet at these significant levels before. Nature is very nonlinear and interlinked and it is highly presumptuous of you to think that we can rely simply on what we presently know to judge the future in such an uncertain scenario. As has always happened in the past, as concerns drive investigation, new knowledge will reveal itself to show missing links of how nature works and our current models will then have to adapt.

  3. Sais says:

    Why has there been no mention of the radioactivity levels in the populated areas of Japan near Fukashima in this article or the following comments? I just had two Japanese 15 year old school girls stay in my Australian home for a week. They live about 30 miles from the reactor. No comments about ongoing emissions. They thought they lived far enough away to have no problems. Your story makes me even more sceptical. Your statistics suggest they will both be dead of cancer by 50! The stats were incomplete, e.g.no cancer risk. The logic of ceasing to eat radionucleotides, by ceasing to eat top of food chain,I.e.go vegan. was missed.

  4. Ann3 says:

    @mario – goats milk historically has had higher radiation readings than cows milk.

  5. Ann3 says:

    Thank you for this perfectly-written and informative article. Thank you also for your selflessness in testing the milk and sharing your results.

    Your article makes it even more concerning that in 2009 the EPA signed off on Protective Action Guidelines whick allow a permissible 1,000-fold increase of Strontium-90 in drinking water!

    http://www.commondreams.org/newswire/2009/01/21-0

    Strontium-90 was also found in Florida rain as reported by an Enenewser.

    Also, if anyone would like to see the EPA’s results for Strontium-90 in milk for your area, you can run a query here:

    http://iaspub.epa.gov/enviro/erams_query_v2.simple_query

    Out of curiosity, I ran a query for the western U.S. region for Strontium-90 in Pasteurized Milk from 1978-2013, and here is the result:

    http://oaspub.epa.gov/enviro/erams_query_v2.simple_output?pStation=0&Llocation=EPA+Region&subloc=09&media=PASTEURIZED+MILK&radi=Strontium-90&Fromyear=1978&Toyear=2013&units=Traditional

  6. Where's the truth? says:

    I am heart broken at this event and all of the events of mass destruction I’ve witnessed and had the displeasure of reading about from in mankinds history. Japan has been the evil powers that be’s radiation playground for some time now. Sadly, we experience these disasters and pick up from where we left off and blindly carry on as though, ahh it’s halfway across the globe, it’s not in my backyard so no worries.

    We (north America) will have many of the sins we consent to our government performing around the world come upon our heads tenfold because we do nothing to try and stop it. Continue to feed the beast and when you can no longer sustain it’s appetite, it will in turn feed upon the land and it’s inhabitants that gave it it’s power.

  7. Mrs Stevie Hobbs says:

    The British Government is going nuclear – rather than spend money on wind farms and wave power they prefer to join the happy band of profiteers who own the Nuclear industries. Does anyone know how to find out if we are also testing our milk etc and who do I write to to find out?

  8. David says:

    @Susan

    Below is an initial response from an environmental lawyer answering my questions about using Dr. Busby’s petition approach.

    ************************************************

    It appears to me that, in Canada, what would be required would be integration of the safety protocols into regulations under federal law. One can review a variety of current regulations on the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC) website (http://nuclearsafety.gc.ca/eng/lawsregs/index.cfm ). The creation of new regulations typically involves a level of lobbying and advocacy and requires a high level of persistence. Some non-government organizations in Canada (such as Sierra Club Canada http://www.sierraclub.ca ) have been involved in issues surrounding nuclear energy and may have some insight in terms of strategies.

    Generally, a starting point would be to contact the CNSC and ensure that they have all the relevant evidence. Follow up meetings with the Commission might follow to outline the need and relevance of safety approach you are advocating.

    In terms of bringing the matter forward to a domestic tribunal or court, I think there would be a need to find circumstances which are illustrative of the risks involved and to present the need for greater regulation, in that instance. This in itself would require significant monitoring and background work it seems to me as the EU is far more active on this front (or so it seems from my general awareness).

    In terms of other alternatives, one can bring an environmental petition to the office of the Auditor General of Canada and the Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development (a guide to this process can be viewed at http://www.oag-bvg.gc.ca/internet/docs/pet_lp_e_930.pdf ). Please see the example — http://www.oag-bvg.gc.ca/internet/English/pet_163A_e_28897.html . As you will note in the petition that is linked the applicant sought to establish whether the federal government viewed the Charter of Rights and Freedoms included a right to a clean environment (to which the government responded by avoiding an answer and claiming existing legislation protected the environment).

  9. Yet Another Simi Mom says:

    Back in the 1960′s and 1970′s, Canadians felt that their society was far advanced, in comparison with that of the United States, in terms of protection of the country’s citizens.

    Fast forward to the 2000′s and pro-business Conservative Stephen Harper became Prime Minister and in that role is the person who selects those who manage Canada’s federal government. Prime Minister Harper’s interests are business, business, business. It’s very clear that it is not in the economic interests of Canada’s businesses that the Canadian government admit reality: That certain dairy or farming regions have been irreversibly harmed by Fukushima’s radiation, and that the continuing releases of radiation will make the harm to Canada’s dairy and growing regions and their businesses permanent. Since the Conservative Canadian government is unable to stop the continued nuclear contamination of parts of Canada due to Fukushima’s ongoing melt downs, the Conservative government simply decides to say nothing and do nothing, allowing Canadian businesses to continue to sell contaminated dairy products, and perhaps contaminated beef, to fellow Canadians.

    As a result, a generation or more of Canadian children will be put at risk of the same sort of nuclear contamination caused illnesses found in Belarus and south west Russia as a result of the Chernobyl radiation.

    Morally, pre-Harper Canada usually took the high ground and told the truth, even if the truth was painful and the problem difficult and long term.

    It’s so sad that as to this critical public health issue, Canada’s federal and provincial governments have fallen to a new low…matching the reckless, callous conduct of the U.S. government.

  10. Chase says:

    “People have a right to know.” – on page 4

    Some of us do know, but we had to look for it. No agency or government is going to stand up and say they were wrong.

    The Nuclear Overlords and their servants are never going to say squat! …and they certainly aren’t going to ‘announce’ it via mainstream media to a large number of people who think Fukushima is done and over. That might cause panic.

    Even worse… it might get people to thinking just how insanely dangerous Nuclear Power really is. …and they wouldn’t want that either.

  11. Andrew says:

    Fantastic article! Just a correction: the biggest source of sr90 in foods and milk in the U.S. and Canada in the 1960s was not continental testing at the Nevada Test Site, but rather from high atmospheric fallout created by huge H-bomb tests in the Pacific and in Siberia. That 1960s fallout actually hit Canada much harder than the U.S. If you look at 1960s UNSCEAR reports, you’ll see that Canadian soils had 150-200% higher sr90 depositions than in the U.S., on average, and higher values in wheat, etc… Question: did the labs you worked with also test for strontium-89? Is there any reason you didn’t ask them to test for that isotope as well?

  12. Susan says:

    @ Marlo – as far as I know, no one has tested goat’s milk. However, this needs to be done. Peter Daley of The Food Lab has told us that goats milk concentrates radionuclides even more than cow’s milk. If you are drinking goat’s milk, I encourage you to send in a litre of it to a certified testing lab.

  13. mario says:

    has anyone tested goat’s milk at all and has testing been done in the interior of b.c.?

  14. Susan says:

    David, we NEED your help! Chris Busby’s petition is very interesting. Also, going through the legal system has possibilities. It takes time, energy and money to get these initiatives going. Everyone needs to get active on this issue of our very survival.

    Every reactor produces so much highly radioactive nuclear waste and there is NO WHERE to put it!!! Even without a disaster, every nuclear power plant is allowed to release radioactivity into the environment. When there is a disaster, it is a complete catastrophe – look at Japan – changed forever – contaminated land, sick and dying people, no end in sight.

    We currently have a campaign started to close down the closest nuclear power plant to our home.

    Everyone needs to find out where their closest nuclear reactor is located. Then they need to find out if there is a group working to shut it down. If there is, they need to JOIN IT! If there isn’t, they need to CREATE ONE!

    As Jerry Mander and Ernest Callenbach said in the forward to the “must read” 2013 book “Nuclear Roulette” by Gar Smith:

    “The situation is so grave that we should ….be camped out night and day in front of the legislative and regulatory bodies demanding the permanent end to any and every expression of this continued nuclear menace”.

  15. Debbie Morton says:

    I deeply appreciate the work that went into this informative report. I am grateful for the dedication of those who gathered the facts and I have shared the article as much as I can. While I live in Ontario, I have family in B.C. and I am concerned for all of us across the country and around the world. What a mess!

  16. David says:

    Thank you! What a loss for all of us and all life forms on earth! And the strange thing is that none of this
    has to happen. We need nuclear like we need a hole in our head.

    Three reflections.

    1. Dr. Busby petition approach in Europe is an interesting way to have the governments there to look at the contanmination through a legal process. Can us Canadians do the same?

    http://nuclearjustice.org/?p=50

    2. Tony Merchant – lawyer – is representing former Chalk river workers in an class action lawsuit. Maybe he would be willing to take this on.

    3. My MLA needs to see these lab reports along with a letter demanding change.

    Please advise.

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