U.S. Radiation Risk

Posted by Shazy on Saturday, March 19, 2011

U.S. Radiation Risk

Radiation threats to the US

With reports that a radiation plume from the Fukushima Dai-ichi Nuclear Plant could reach Southern California, worried citizens have been hoarding certain pills , wondering if it's OK to go outside and otherwise fretting over an invisible, and somewhat unpredictable, threat.
But all that worrying might cause more harm than the radiation itself, experts say. Here are some answers to common concerns.

Possible levels of radiation

Q: How much radiation do scientists think will arrive here?
Details: No one knows yet -- but probably not a whole lot. It's unclear what's happening at the Japanese power plant -- and whatever radiation escapes has to travel thousands of miles to reach U.S. shores.  Over that distance, it will be greatly diluted, if it gets here at all.
In fact, the winds have been shifting, often pointing back westward to Japan rather than to the U.S., California officials said in a news conference Thursday. "We are not in Japan," said Dr. Jonathan Fielding, director of public health for Los Angeles County. "We are not within 10 miles of the reactor."

How much risk?

Q: How much risk will any radiation that does reach here pose?
Details: Gregory Jaczko, chairman of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, an independent agency that regulates U.S. commercial nuclear power plants, said the basic science involved suggested that "there can't be any risk or harm to anyone here in the United States, or Hawaii, or any of the other (U.S.) territories."
Dr. Kei Iwamoto, of the faculty of the Division of Molecular and Cellular Oncology at the University of California, Los Angeles, said he believed the amount of radiation from Japan that a person in California might be exposed to will be very low -- perhaps around one microsievert.

Chernobyl & radiation

Q: Did radiation reach here from Chernobyl?
Details: "The radiation from the accident was negligible from a health standpoint. I know of no evidence that that accident caused any increase in cancer in this country," Iwamoto said.

Children & radiation

Q: What about kids? Are they more sensitive to radiation?
Details: "Kids are more vulnerable to radiation for a couple of reasons," said Dr. William Hendee, a radiation physicist with the Medical College of Wisconsin. "Their organs and tissues are growing and developing. Growing and developing cells are more susceptible to radiation. Kids also have a longer life span."
Q: So should they be kept away from school?
Answer: No. Radiation levels are not likely to get very high. There is no reason to keep children out of school.

Iodine tablets vs. iodized salt

Q: Should people take iodine tablets or eat iodized salt? It can't hurt, can it?
Details: The tablets can be risky for some people -- especially pregnant women. There is no reason to take iodine tablets at this point, said California officials.

Do masks help?

Q: Would wearing a mask help?
Details: "Masks would reduce a bit of the inhalation, but the amount of radioactive fallout is going to be so tiny," Hendee said. "For someone who is concerned or worried, if they felt better wearing a mask, they should wear a mask. I don't think it will reduce their risk, because the risk is already so low."

Authorities' contingency plans

Q: What contingency plans do local and national health authorities have?
Details: Although national health authorities defer to state governments, they will issue recommendations based on the severity of radiation levels, said Robert Taylor, a spokesman for the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. Possible recommendations include evacuating areas within 10 miles of a nuclear power plant; warning people to take shelter and close all doors and windows; and advising residents to consume potassium iodide tablets. "There's no need for U.S. citizens to take any protective measures at this time," he added.

Safety & radiation

Q: What can people do to be safer?
Details: Until more is known about the threat that radiation from the nuclear plant might pose in California and beyond, your best bet is to get yourself prepared -- for any expected emergency. Assemble your earthquake kit. Install gas shut-off valves, if your house doesn't already have them. "Rather than going out and buying potassium iodide, I would encourage everyone to go out and buy three to five days of food and water, so that when we have our earthquake, you can be self-sufficient," said Howard Backer, interim director of the California Department of Public Health.
Most of all, address the health threats that you can control. According to the federal government, almost 1.5 million Americans die each year of heart disease or tobacco-related diseases. The best bang for your buck might be throwing away cigarettes, exercising and improving your diet.
Source: Specials