State officials say radiation traces detected in air no concern

Monitoring finds very low levels in air, but none in water or milk

March 27, 2011|By Timothy B. Wheeler, The Baltimore Sun

Maryland officials say they've detected little or no trace of radiation in the state from the Japanese nuclear reactor accident, though federal agencies are reporting slightly elevated levels of radioactive iodine in rainwater in Pennsylvania and Massachusetts.

Dr. Joshua M. Sharfstein, Maryland secretary of health and mental hygiene, said that monitoring by state agencies of air, water and food supplies has found "no reason for public health concern."

The Environmental Protection Agency and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced Sunday that "very small amounts" of radioactive materials might be detected in air and precipitation across the country using very sensitive equipment.

Air monitors on the West Coast have picked up very small amounts of radioactive iodine — less than 1 picocurie per cubic meter of air (A picocurie is one trillionth of a curie). Maryland officials say state sensors have detected even smaller amounts of I-131 in the air, measured in femtocuries (one-thousandth of a picocurie). None of these levels pose a risk to health, state officials say.

"It's orders of magnitude less than an X-ray," Sharfstein said Sunday.

The CDC also has reported elevated levels of I-131 in rainwater in Massachusetts and Pennsylvania. But the agency said amounts detected, in the range of 40 to 100 picocuries per liter, are still about 25 times below what might be of concern for even short-term water consumption by infants and pregnant women, those most sensitive to radiation.

Tests of rainwater and drinking-water reservoirs in Maryland have found no detectable I-131, state officials said, nor has any been picked up in initial tests of milk supplies. Maryland health officials are not recommending any change in water or food consumption, or any need for taking potassium iodide to protect thyroid glands at the currently measured traces of radiation. 

Sharfstein said state officials would continue to monitor air, water, milk and food supplies for any signs of increased radioactive content.

tim.wheeler@baltsun.com

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