Weather plays role in samples

Radioactive iodine nothing to worry about, say scientists

According to a nuclear chemist at Simon Fraser University, the increased levels of radioactive iodine found in seaweed and rainwater samples in Barkley Sound are nothing to worry about.

“The quantities which we see are smaller than the quantities which we see of natural radiation,” said nuclear chemist Krzysztof Starosta, “these levels are very tiny.”

Starosta is confident iodine-131 has been carried to British Columbia via the jet stream from the Fukushima Dai-Ichi nuclear reactor in Japan. He said the amounts measured here depend on the weather; if the wind goes east instead of west for example, the radioactivity is not seen.

Health Canada spokesperson Stephan Shank said government radiation monitoring being done on Vancouver Island, in Sydney, Victoria and Nanaimo — as well as elsewhere in B.C. — is just a precautionary measure.

“I want to underline that the numbers are minuscule and they basically… are virtually the same as the levels would be on a rainy day.”

SFU researchers have tested at the campus, in downtown Vancouver, in North Vancouver and in Barclay Sound. Starosta said past scientific studies tell us what they’ve found is not a concern. 

He said a study done about 20 years ago with levels measured four times higher, concluded no impact on health.

He thinks the problem is people think because this radiation is man-made, it’s harmful.

“For some reason people believe that man-made radiation has a different impact on humans than the natural radiation,” he said. 

“The answer to that is our body doesn’t have any mechanism to discriminate between the source of radiation, when your body gets radiation it doesn’t know if it’s natural or artificial.”

Although the half-life of iodine 131 is only about eight days, Starosta predicts small amounts of the isotope will still be detectable in B.C. until three to four weeks after Japan’s nuclear reactor stops releasing radioactivity into the atmosphere.


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