The Science of Sustainability

DON'T PANIC (but a tiny bit of radiation was found in U.S. milk)

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"Minuscule" amounts of iodine-131 was found in milk from Washington state. Image courtesy of stevoarnold.

Reuters reports that trace amounts (0.8 pCi/L) of radioactive iodine-131 was found in milk from cows in Washington state, though officials stress this is nothing to be alarmed about.

"These types of findings are to be expected in the coming days and are far below levels of public health concern, including for infants and children," said the Food and Drug Administration and the Environmental Protection Agency in a joint statement.

Though the levels found in the US are 5,000 times below the FDA's standard, this particular isotope of iodine is not normally present in milk. When milk is contaminated, iodine-131 can accumulate in the thyroid and lead to cancer.

US officials have been monitoring radiation levels in milk and drinking water since the radiation leak at Japan's Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant after the March 11 earthquake.

Fortunately the half life of iodine-131 is quite short, only 8 days, meaning the vast majority of the dangerous isotope should be degraded in 2 weeks time so long as there is not additional exposure.

US citizens are at extremely low risk of radiation exposure due to the events in Japan, but officials will continue to monitor the situation.

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Category: Health, Sustainable Health

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Darya Pino

About the Author ()

Darya Pino is a Ph.D trained scientist, San Francisco foodie, food and health writer and advocate of local, seasonal foods. She shares her unique scientific perspective on health and enthusiasm for delicious foods at her website Summer Tomato. Follow her on Twitter @summertomato.
  • Douglas Starr

    How much milk would someone have to drink to be at increased risk?