Monday, April 11, 2011


Radiation in Hawaii milk—need to avoid panic on one side, lies on the other

by Larry Geller

I jokingly said to someone today after she quickly snapped a cool picture with her iPhone, that I hope to get an iPhone also one day, but I’m waiting for one with a built-in Geiger counter.

What I had in mind is that I think we’re going to have to sort out this Fukushima radiation risk thing for ourselves and not depend on government for information or to protect us.

On one side, panic blog posts are already appearing, saying for example that the EPA has detected levels of radioactive iodine in Big Island milk that is 600% above the limit for water.  This raises the interesting question of why there should be two limits. Perhaps there is a reason, but one way or the other, the iodine gets into me if I drink either the milk or the water, so why two limits? Some of the articles I see have plenty of misinformation, for example that radioactive elements have different half-lives inside and outside the body. It is the same. (The EPA page including data for Hawaii is here.)

When exactly should we panic? What about radioactivity in crops? Those cows are eating or drinking something to get their iodine, which they pass on to us in the milk. When do we worry?

On the other side, the federal government has a long history of lying about the dangers of radiation. There are many examples. In Hawaii we know that many residents of Pacific Islands come here for medical treatment. Others were evacuate from their islands after nuclear tests. The US government was not concerned with their safety, and evacuated some only three days after a nuclear blast irradiated them. Then three years later they were told it was safe to go back even though 67 nuclear bombs had been detonated in the Marshall Islands. In 1985 they were evacuated again. Their islands, and everything they ate or drank, were still radioactive.Many came down with thyroid cancer and children were born with birth defects. All because our government lied to them.

The US Atomic Energy Commission reported "there were no burns" and that islanders were in good health even though they did suffer severe radiation burns, their hair fell out, and their land was covered with radioactive fallout that resembled snow.

Although not a radiation issue, most readers will be familiar with the lies told to 9/11 first responders and later rescue workers—that the air at Ground Zero was safe to breathe. It is outrageous that the US government still denies health care to these workers. It took a whistleblower to reveal the EPA coverup of the health dangers.

As to our state government, I assume they are occasionally going up on the Department of Health roof to read their radiation monitor, but what about their own efforts to measure (say) iodine-131 in milk, other food products, or water? How come we hear first from Washington about Big Island milk? 

It is possible for ordinary citizens to monitor radiation, though it takes a budget. I noticed that someone in Los Angeles is now live-streaming a radiation monitor, though for some reason it seems to be indoors. A TV news report on the monitoring is in a video at the upper-right of this web page.

I’m not saying that we should do the same. I suggest independent professional evaluation of the safety of Hawaii’s air, water and food. Right now there may be no call for concern, and perhaps there never will be. But whom do we trust for that reassurance?

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons license.


Thanks for a much more balanced article on the issue. The one note you might add to the amateur efforts to monitor radiation... Most folks have no idea how much radiation we live with daily even in a "clean" environment, just the stuff drifting in from natural sources or from space. Just getting a counter is potentially misleading, determining what has been added from the Japanese incident is highly problematic.

Good point, Andrew. No baseline. That monitor on the Ustream TV is indoors, so it might be counting his radon gas, if he has any. Someone else could get a different reading indoors even if they live nearby, most likely.

And of course, just running a counter doesn't even get near the milk, water or food issues.

Talking about the 67 nuclear bombs that have been detonated in the Marshall Islands, some of it blew here. Second Letter.
As for nuclear testing, this is wild! Nuclear Detonation Timeline "1945-1998"
I was furious when Lingle tried to cut the Hawai'i Marshallese off of Quest and their dialysis; for God's sake, WE nuked them! Sick.
My friend, anthropologist, Barbara Rose Johnston, wrote an awesome book called, " Half-Lives & Half Truths - Confronting the radioactive legacies of the cold war. Barbara helped the South Pacific Islanders to receive small settlements from our government - nowhere near close to what they lost. Did you know, we even gave radiation pills to the people and told them it was medicine - just to study their demise? Its true.
The bull$#%^ never ends, just like the Army testing for radioactive depleted uranium in Hawai'i, I'm told - using filters that are ten times too big. And NONE of our political "leaders" are holding their feet to the fire to get any real data to insure our safety. Sick.
So getting back to that independent testing thing - you betcha. But don't hold yer breath.

I wonder why Big Island milk? I donʻt want to disparage a business that has probably had its fair share of setbacks but I also donʻt want to gamble.
Thereʻs got to be some logical method or approach to test and get a baseline as is said here. It is a prospect that is over my head and I am the first one to stand up and be counted as dummy.
Iʻm kind of confused about the iodine. Thought it is what is used for treatment from radiation poisoning.
Thanks Larry.

The iodine thing works this way: normally, we get iodine from several food sources, or from vitamin supplements. Seaweed has iodine. Anyway, it concentrates in the thyroid.

If there is radioactive iodine from nuclear fallout, it goes to the thyroid too. And sits there and radiates the thyroid, breaking DNA chains and whatever else radioactive idodine does. There is no safe limit, just a question of the cancer risk. Obviously, if you get a lot in there, that means trouble.

So people about to be exposed to fallout containing iodine-131 take iodine pills, or eat lots of seaweed, etc. Whatever will give them lots of iodine. This goes to the thyroid instead of the radioactive stuff, which is simply washed out of the body.

What else can you do?

There's a lot we don't know about what's in the Big Island milk (which is sold on Oahu in Foodland, Kokua Market, Whole Foods, etc.). We don't know if it is safe or not. For that matter, we don't know if the milk from the Mainland is safe or not.

I think we need experts, and experts need to be paid. But then what?...?

Re: "This raises the interesting question of why there should be two limits. Perhaps there is a reason, but one way or the other, the iodine gets into me if I drink either the milk or the water, so why two limits?"

Since we are constantly exposed to radiation from natural sources in every day life, radiation limits tend to be based on exposure x duration rather than a single peak. Using the example from the S-A this morning:

"The limits for water as derived by the EPA are totally different from how it's derived through the FDA," Naka sone said. "The EPA is saying (their limit) is over a 70-year period, whereas FDA is more of a short-term duration."

Using McMahon's premise, "it's like drinking two liters of water for 70 years to get their (the EPA's) limit. So if you extrapolated to milk, you'd have to drink two liters of milk for 70 years to get that limit."

"When exactly should we panic?"

When the government announces that "this is not the time to panic."

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