The message from the L.A. County and California departments of public health: Don’t worry about radiation from the quake-damaged Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Plant in Japan; get prepared for the next natural disaster that strikes here at home.
“We understand people’s concern. Radiation is scary stuff,” said interim California public health director Howard Backer, M.D., at a media update today, but radiation is a natural part of our environment, and any that managed to travel the distance from Japan would be at such low levels that it wouldn’t endanger anyone’s health. “We’re 5,000 miles away, which would have a major dispersion effect on any radiation that reaches the atmosphere,” he said. Even following severe disasters such as Chernoble, there was no trace of radiation at that distance.
Backer told reporters that no increase in radiation has yet been detected by any monitors along the West Coast, and that it would be difficult to predict when any remnants released from the Japanese plant might reach us. But even in a “worst-case scenario,” he insisted the public would be safe.
Jonathan Fielding, M.D., Director of Public Health in L.A. County, said reports that passengers flying into the U.S. from Japan had set off radiation detectors were also not cause for alarm. The equipment, he said, is so sensitive that it can detect even minute levels of radiation. “The fact that we can detect this does not mean that it is problematic.”
Backer also noted that FDA is already screening all shipments of food coming in from Japan. Our ports were already screening containers for radioactivity as part of antiterrorism efforts.
Both men cautioned the public against taking potassium iodide, a common treatment for radiation exposure. Many in the U.S. seem to have been stockpiling supplies, which are sold over the counter. But the medication has side effects, including upset stomach, rash, possibility of allergic reactions, and inflammation of the salivary glands.
Rather than spending time and money trying to protect yourself against radiation from Japan, Backer and Fielding suggest preparing for local emergencies and natural disasters by making a plan to reunite with loved ones if you are separated, and stockpiling three days’ worth of food and water and other emergency supplies. (Visit www.publichealth.lacounty.gov for instructions.) Got cash to spare? Reach out to one of the many reputable agencies (the American Red Cross, for example) collecting aid for those in need in Japan.