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Feds scale down monitoring in milk, drinking water

on May 9, 2011

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has scaled back the monitoring of radiation in milk, drinking water and rain, saying data shows radiation levels related to the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant are consistently declining. The California Public Health Laboratory in Richmond is the state’s only lab capable of testing environmental samples for radiation, and has led the state’s testing of milk and air samples in the wake of the March earthquake that damaged the Japanese power plant.

After the earthquake, the lab began testing milk samples every week and air samples every 48 hours. The Food and Drug Administration also began additional monitoring after traces of iodine-131 and other radioactive particles were found in milk in California and Washington after the magnitude-9.0 earthquake and tsunami on March 11.  But health officials have said from the start that the levels were miniscule, some 5,000 times lower than the level needed to prompt concern, and did not pose a threat to public health, including for infants and children.

The EPA announced on May 3 it would return to monitoring drinking water and milk on a quarterly basis and precipitation levels once a month. The agency’s next round of milk and drinking water tests are scheduled for August.

Still, groups like Food and Water Watch have criticized the government agencies’ response, and urged them to improve testing for air, water, soil and domestic food products as well as inspections for food imports. The FDA regulates products imported from Japan, which include human and animal food, medical devices, cosmetics, dietary supplements, and animal feed. An estimated 60 percent of the imports from Japan are food but make up less than four percent of all food imported into the U.S. The most common food imports from Japan are seafood, processed fruits and vegetables, according to the FDA website.

As of May 5, the FDA had examined more than 9,000 imported products for radionuclide contamination, including testing for Iodine 131, Cesium 134, and Cesium 137. The agency tested 356 samples, of which only one showed detectable levels of Cesium. The amounts, however, were tiny, according to the FDA website.

See the video for more information about radiation testing on food products.

This post is part of an ongoing partnership between Richmond Confidential and the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism’s News 21 course on food reporting.

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