Radiation Levels Were Originally Said to Be On the Rise As a Result of Devastation in Japan
The Associated Press reported Friday that radioactive fallout from Japan's damaged nuclear reactors had made its way to Southern California; however, radiation readings appeared low enough that they did not pose a health threat. Later that day, the Southeast Air Quality Management District said there was no increase in radiation. In fact, AQMD spokeswoman Tina Cherry said, "There's no risk detected through the monitor."
As an East-Coaster whose never given radiation levels much thought, the news about rising levels in Cali (and then not rising) made me think--what are the effects of high radiation levels? What's considered a dangerously high level of radiation? And do I even know what the radiation levels are in my area?
The NRC Presents Facts About RadiationAccording to the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, "Radiation is all around us." Our environment naturally possesses some radiation, which comes from outer space, the ground, and even our own bodies. What's more, radiation levels can vary from one location to another depending on factors such as altitude. "About half of the total annual average U.S. individual's radiation exposure comes from natural sources," says the NRC. "The other half is from diagnostic medical procedures."
The NRC says that low level exposure to radiation has biological effects so small they are undetectable because the body has repair mechanisms that protect against any damage. However, damaged cells could potentially incorrectly repair themselves, resulting in a biophysical change. Furthermore, an association exists between high levels of radiation and cancer. "Cancers associated with high-dose exposure (greater than 50,000 mrem) include leukemia, breast, bladder, colon, liver, lung, esophagus, ovarian, multiple myeloma, and stomach cancers," says the NRC. However, no data proves the unequivocal occurrence of cancer following low doses of radiation. "Low doses" are considered to be those that are less than 10,000 mrem--spread out over many years.
Sources of Radiation in the U.S. are 50% Naturally Occurring Says NRC
Normal background radiation levels in the environment should be anywhere from 5 to 60 counts per minute (CPM). Fortunately, online geiger counters are available, which report to the public the radiation levels in most locations throughout the 48 contiguous U.S. states. One is the Radiation Network, at www.radiationnetwork.com, presented by Mineralab, LLC. Here, you can also find links that will take you to geiger maps of Japan, Alaska, and Hawaii. The radiation level where I live is currently about 35, which is interestingly higher than central California's current 29. Within minutes, the radition level in my area rose to 37, and central California went down to 19.
Radiation Network's Geiger Map on March 19, 5:24 Eastern Time: www.radiationnetwork.com
However, Radiation Network doesn't report southern California, where the radiation was originally said to be on the rise. For southern Californian's concerned about radiation levels, a good site to check out is Enviro Reporter's streaming video footage of radiation monitors in West LA.
Sources: LA Times and NRC