Fukushima lingers on

Are our west coast fish safe to eat?

Richmond Hill Post - - Daily Planet -

Fol­low­ing Ja­pan’s dev­as­tat­ing 2011 earth­quake and tsunami, fear spread about risks of leaked ra­di­a­tion from the Fukushima Dai­ichi nu­clear power plant — for the health of those liv­ing in or near Fukushima or in­volved in cleanup ef­forts and for the planet and the po­ten­tial im­pacts on our com­plex ma­rine food web.

Shu­nichi Tanaka, head of Ja­pan’s Nu­clear Reg­u­la­tion Au­thor­ity, told re­porters radioactiv­e wa­ter has likely been leak­ing into the Pa­cific Ocean since the dis­as­ter hit. It’s the largest sin­gle con­tri­bu­tion of ra­dionu­clides to the ma­rine en­vi­ron­ment ever ob­served, ac­cord­ing to one re­port. With 300 tonnes of con­tam­i­nated wa­ter pour­ing into the sea ev­ery day, Ja­pan’s govern­ment fi­nally ac­knowl­edged the ur­gency of the sit­u­a­tion in Septem­ber. So­cial me­dia is now abuzz with peo­ple swear­ing off fish from the Pa­cific Ocean. Given the lack of in­for­ma­tion around con­tain­ment ef­forts, some may find this rea­son­able. But pre­lim­i­nary re­search shows fish caught off Canada’s Pa­cific coast are safe to eat.

It will take about three years from the time of the in­ci­dent for the ra­di­a­tion plume to reach the west coast, which would be early next year. Re­cent test­ing of mi­gra­tory fish, in­clud­ing tis­sue sam­ples col­lected from Pa­cific bluefin tuna caught off the Cal­i­for­nia coast, as­sessed ra­di­a­tion lev­els and po­ten­tial ef­fects on ma­rine food webs far away from Ja­pan. Trace amounts of ra­dioiso­topes from the Fukushima plant were found, al­though the best avail­able sci­ence puts them at lev­els be­low those nat­u­rally oc­cur­ring in the en­vi­ron­ment around us. The most com­pre­hen­sive health as­sess­ment, by the World Health Or­ga­ni­za­tion, con­cludes radioactiv­e par­ti­cles that make their way to North Amer­ica’s wa­ters will have a limited ef­fect on hu­man health, with con­cen­tra­tions pre­dicted to be be­low WHO safety lev­els.

More re­ports are in the works. The UN agency charged with as­sess­ing global lev­els and con­se­quences of ion­iz­ing ra­di­a­tion will present its find­ings to the UN Gen­eral Assem­bly this month. Mean­while, fish from the wa­ter near the crip­pled plant are not far­ing so well. High lev­els of ce­sium-134, a radioactiv­e iso­tope that de­cays rapidly, were found in fish sam­ples there. Ra­di­a­tion lev­els in the sea around Ja­pan have been hold­ing steady and not fall­ing as ex­pected, fur­ther demon­strat­ing that ra­di­a­tion leak­age is not un­der con­trol. At least 42 fish species from the im­me­di­ate area are con­sid­ered un­safe for con­sump­tion, and fish­eries there re­main closed.

A ma­jor re­lease of ra­dioac­tiv­ity, such as that from Fukushima, is a huge con­cern, with un­knowns re­main­ing around long-term health risks such as can­cers. That doesn’t mean it’s un­safe to eat all fish caught on the Pa­cific West Coast. I’m tak­ing a pre­cau­tion­ary ap­proach: fish will stay part of my diet as long as they’re caught lo­cally and sus­tain­ably and will re­main so un­til new re­search gives me pause to re­con­sider.

At least 42 species of fish in the Fukushima area are con­sid­ered un­safe to eat

DAVID SUZUKI David Suzuki is host of CBC’s The Na­ture of Things and au­thor of more than 30 books on ecol­ogy.

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