Radiation is a form of energy that we are exposed to – in varying quantities – all of the time. Some of this exposure is from natural sources like elements in the soil, and others from man-made sources, such as medical X-rays and building materials. Releases of radiation from concentrated sources, such as the Japanese nuclear facilities, can have a significant impact on humans, animals and other life in the immediate area.
Despite fears in the mainland United States that radiation from the Fukushima Daiichi plant could have a strong negative effect on daily life, these fears are largely unfounded. The U.S. West Coast is 5,000 miles away from Japan and dangerous levels of radiation from the Fukushima plant would dissipate before reaching domestic sources of food and water. Air quality is also not at risk for significant negative impact.
After initial news reports about the nuclear plant meltdown, sales of potassium iodide (KI) pills skyrocketed. As a result, health department officials across the country have issued warnings that Americans do not need to buy or take KI pills in response to the radiation from the Japanese plant.
Officials have warned that taking KI pills can cause side effects that can be harmful to a person’s health and sometimes cause life-threatening allergic reactions.
For more information about radiation and other potential health threats, contact the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention at (800) CDC-INFO (800-232-4636), which is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. For information for threats to food quality, visit www.fda.gov.
Food and U.S. Agriculture
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not currently have concerns with the safety of imported food products from Japan currently available in the United States. Officials said the FDA has a strict screening process in place to inspect products that come into ports and prevent unsafe products from entering our food supply. The FDA also collects information about where Japanese food products are grown, harvested and manufactured so that they can keep U.S. consumers safe. The most commonly consumed products imported from Japan include seafood, snack food and processed fruits and vegetables.
In the United States, agricultural production is not currently at risk since there is no indication that harmful levels of radiation will reach American food sources. Generally, produce is washed at various stages of production and processing. Individuals who grow their own food should always wash produce before eating.
This safety determination extends to, but is not limited to, all meat, poultry and dairy products. The FDA is working closely with the Japanese government and other U.S. agencies to ensure that the American food supply remains safe.
Additionally, water sources, even on the U.S. West Coast, will not experience a significant increase of radioactive material in ocean water. Any radioactive particles in the ocean water near the damaged nuclear plants in Japan will dilute to extremely low levels before arriving in U.S. coastal ocean water and are not a health concern to surfers, bathers or pets at beaches.
Preparing for disaster
While radiation from the Japanese disaster is not a threat, concerns over potential impacts underscores the importance of pre-event disaster planning. Emergency plans help you maintain contact with family, friends and emergency service providers during and after an emergency, and simple kits should be prepared at home, in the workplace and in the car.
The following items should be part of any emergency kit:
- First aid kit
- Personal documents
- Extra change of clothes
- Multi-purpose tool kit
- Personal hygiene items
- Cell phone (with charger)
- Emergency contacts
- Baby supplies
- Pet supplies
- Extra set of car/home keys
- Rain gear
- Insect repellent and sunscreen
Another important step to take before a disaster is to build relationships with your neighbors, community organizers and other agencies in your area. Knowing those who can help most immediately during a disaster is an important step, as well as learning more about shelters in your area.