Radiation from Japan rained on Berkeley during recent storms at levels that exceeded drinking water standards by 181 times and has been detected in multiple milk samples, but the U.S. government has still not published any official data on nuclear fallout here from the Fukushima disaster.
Dangers from radiation that is wafting over the United States from the Fukushima power plant disaster and falling with rain have been downplayed by government officials and others, who say its impacts are so fleeting and minor as to be negligible.
But critics say an absence of federal data on the issue is hampering efforts to develop strategies for preventing radioactive isotopes from accumulating in the nation's food and water supplies.
Three weeks after the Fukushima nuclear power plant began spewing radiation into the world’s air, the U.S. government still has not revealed the amount of iodine-131 or other radioactive elements that have fallen as precipitation or made their way into milk supplies or drinking water.
“The official mantra from a lot of folks in government is, ‘Oh, it’s OK in low levels,’” said Patty Lovera, a Washington-based assistant director at the nonprofit Food and Water Watch.
“But low levels add up. We would like to see a more coherent strategy for monitoring air and water in agricultural areas and then using that data to come up with a plan, if you need one, to go look at the food system.”
Radiation falling with rain can cover grass that is eaten by cows and other animals. It can also fall on food crops or accumulate in reservoirs that are used for irrigation or drinking water. Seafood can also be affected.
Food and Water Watch sent a letter to President Barack Obama and members of his cabinet and Congress on Thursday urging the federal government to improve its monitoring of radiation in agricultural land and food in the wake of the Japanese tragedy.
“The three agencies that monitor almost all of the food Americans eat … have insisted that the U.S. food supply is safe,” the letter states. “The agencies, however, have done very little to detail specific ways in which they are responding to the threat of radiation in food.”
Cancer-causing radiation from Japan is circling the world, traveling quickly on jet streams high in the atmosphere and falling with rain. It is being detected in air, water and milk throughout the United States by local and state agencies.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration, which regulates food safety, referred questions about potential milk contamination to the federal Environmental Protection Agency, which is taking the lead on testing dairy products for radiation.
The EPA on Tuesday said it expected to release results of tests for radioactivity in rain and snow within a day or so. On Friday, three days after making that pledge, EPA officials repeated the same statement and said the data would likely be released over the weekend or on Monday.