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Post Fukushima radiation – effects on Metro Vancouver drinking water

Since the catastrophic tsunami and nuclear accident at Fukushima on March 11, 2011 watermatters has been in repeated contact with all levels of government, health authorities, academics, scientists and lay people seeking current local test data concerning radionuclide levels in Metro Vancouver’s water. It has been of particular concern to us as Metro Vancouver is supplied by surface water from snow and rain (not ground water), collected in three open reservoirs – Capilano, Seymour and Coquitlam.

Testing for radioactivity in Metro Vancouver’s drinking water

Shortly after the initial incident at the Fukushima power plant on March 11, Metro Vancouver started water sampling to test for various radioactive isotopes. These samples were taken from the intakes at each of our three reservoirs and sent to the Saskatchewan Research Council. The SRC is one of only two facilities in Canada with the equipment necessary to do this specialized testing – an expensive process. The test results are posted on Metro Vancouver’s website.

By early May 2011, local authorities deemed it unnecessary to continue this sampling (and posting of results) because test results were indicating that any changes in radioactive isotopes levels were negligible. This decision appears to have been made by provincial health authorities, probably in consultation with Health Canada, local scientists and radiation specialists.

Radiation continues to leak from Japan

Meanwhile, it was coming to light via alternative media and professional sources that the state of affairs in Japan was (and continues to be) far from stable. Earthquakes and typhoons continue to threaten Japan.  Radioactive waste continues to leak into the Pacific Ocean, raising questions about how much of this contamination might affect radioactive levels in fish.

Testing for radioactivity in Canadian fisheries

In August the Canadian Food Inspection Agency tested twelve fish from different sources and reported all were below Health Canada action levels for radioactivity. We contacted the CFIA for more details and were told that of the twelve fish tested in total, ten were salmon, two were tuna. The species tested were Pink, Sockeye, Chum, Coho and Spring salmon, and Albacore tuna. The twelve fish tested were all wild. These fish were taken at various points in the coastal waters off of Vancouver Island including the Georgia and Juan de Fuca Straits, from deeper waters off the west coast of Vancouver Island, and from various mainland rivers.

Casual local rainwater testing shows no recent unusual levels of radiation

We recently contacted the SFU nuclear scientist whose samplings for radioactivity in local rainwater and seaweed made the news in March. He evidently continues to casually test radionuclide levels when it rains. (This activity is not part of his professional mandate.) We spoke with him shortly after the last very heavy rainfall in September about which he reports that he found “nothing”, referring to detectable radionuclide levels. He expresses no concern about the situation, saying that we already live with a significant level of radioactive isotopes inherited from nuclear testing in the sixties. Also contributing to ambient levels is background radiation from naturally occurring ores in our environment and from cosmic radiation.

Official positions based on points of view or actual local data?

All local, provincial and federal government and health authorities with whom we have spoken regarding this issue have consistently asserted that we are not at risk here in BC. It has been our impression that most of these individuals have no in-depth understanding about nuclear radiation. Even with those trained in radioactive impact, their stance relies heavily, if not entirely, on the position and findings of remote official sources beyond their own jurisdiction. The situation is complicated by the mind-bending equations needed to interpret radioactive measurements in Bequerels and Sieverts.

Japan incinerating Fukushima’s nuclear debris

Most recently we have learned that rather than containing the radioactive debris from Fukushima, the Japanese government is now planning to transport massive amounts of it to other parts of Japan to be incinerated. There are serious concerns that this will expose the rest of the Japanese population to radioactive contamination and increase the possibility of radionuclides reaching the Canadian west coast via air currents.

On-going potential for radioactive contamination warrants continued local testing

People around the world are fast losing their trust in the decisions that officials make on our behalf – a powerful unravelling that especially characterizes this year, 2011. Given that the situation in Japan is not stable, that contamination continues to leak from the site of the accident and that Japan is planning to incinerate massive amounts of contaminated nuclear debris from the Fukushima accident, we feel that continued local testing of our water supply is warranted, if simply to show people that there is, indeed, no current spike in radiation levels.

To this end we have been in touch with various local, provincial and federal departments pointing out that it would be in the interests of all concerned to continue to test our local water supply and to publish scientifically based local data showing that there continues to be no need for concern. If the test results don’t support this then we need to know that too.

The Japanese people can certainly use all the support we can give.



Citizen’s group initiates radiation monitoring
Frustrated by the lack of satisfactory data from official sources, the following citizens action group has initiated its own radiological testing:
Canadian Collaborative for Radiation Awareness & Monitoring

Nuclear scientists concerned about lack of disclosure

Government contacts
Some government officials and health authorities involved in decision-making and public relations regarding radioactivity and drinking water:

Radiological Parameters in Drinking Water
Water samples may be screened initially for radioactivity by measuring Gross Alpha and Beta activity.  Compliance with the Canadian drinking water guidelines may be inferred if measurements for gross alpha and beta activity are less than 0.1 Bq/L and 1 Bq/L respectively.  If the measurements exceed the limits, additional radiological testing for natural and manmade isotopes such as Cesium 137, Iodine 131, Lead 210, Radium 226 and Strontium 90, as listed in the guideline may be required and can be carried out by SRC Analytical.

Health Canada’s Radiological Guidelines and Parameters
Health Canada’s Guidelines for Drinking Water Quality
Health Canada’s radiological monitoring data
How radiological guidelines are calculated

The formula for calculating the Maximum Acceptable Concentration (MAC) is provided as:

MAC (Bq/L) =        ________  0.1 mSv/year      __
730 L/year x DC (Sv/Bq) x 1000 mSv/Sv

0.1 mSv/year is the dose constraint used for drinking water
730 L/year is the drinking water consumption rate for Canadians
DC (Sv/Bq) is the dose coefficient for ingestion recommended by the International Commission for Radiological Protection (ICRP) 72 (1996)

In order to calculate the dose from a given activity in Bq/L, you have to re-arrange this equation.
To calculate dose, you would use the follow equation:

Dose (mSv/year) = Activity (Bq/L) x DC (Sv/Bq) x 730 L/year x 1000 mSv/Sv

4 Responses to “Post Fukushima radiation – effects on Metro Vancouver drinking water”

  1. Susan Hoch Says:

    Hi Mary –

    thank you thank you thank you for this great overview!! I have been spending hours studying this issue – have sent in soil and rainwater and kale and drinking water and our pool water for testing…..and now i have a handle on it I am starting to write letters. This is an Awesome article you wrote. Isabel and I are discussing having a public meeting (not sure where or when but I’ll let you know).



  2. Mary Says:

    Hi Suzy,
    Thanks for your response and for what you are doing.
    Much love, Mary

  3. David Dressler, BA, RMT Says:

    On the whole, what is being tested and what is being reported are not the whole story. First of all, radioactive iodine-131 was the issue in the first hours and days of the meltdown. Iodine travels fast on the wind and much slower through the food chain. It saturates the thyroid gland in a matter of less than a week and very likely causes thyroid cancer. The precaution, at the time of the meltdown, was to consume potassium iodide (KI) in a 130 mg dose every day. This was to saturate the thyroid ahead of the arrival of the radioactive iodine. Most people here did not do that, even if they knew about it. By the tenth day, radioactive iodine was detected on the west coast including into California. We were dosed. Our food supply was dosed if it was produce. Our water was dosed. Our air was dosed.

    Radioactivity was monitored at stations across Canada and the US. Over the weeks, most reported a few sudden peaks of radioactivity but, as Mary writes, generally not many peaks above background count. But here is why this is misleading.

    You have to ask WHAT were they reading? What were they reporting?
    In April, I reported in my e-letter:

    “(NaturalNews bulletin)Earlier in the week, several nuclear facilities in North and South Carolina, as well as in Florida, reportedly detected low levels of Iodine-131 in the air (http://www.naturalnews.com/031881_r…). That same radiation has also been detected across the West Coast, as well as in northeastern states like Pennsylvania and Massachusetts, which clearly indicates that Fukushima radiation has made its way throughout the US, at least in very low levels.

    “But now, reports have been issued claiming that milk samples from Washington state have also turned up contaminated with Iodine-131. The levels were allegedly far lower than the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) concern limits for the radioactive particles, but they are not necessarily safe even at the levels being detected.

    “According to the FDA “Radiation Safety” website, the Derived Intervention Level (DIL) for Iodine-131 is 170 becquerels per kilogram (Bq/kg) (http://www.fda.gov/newsevents/publi…). A Wall Street Journal report of the milk incident explains that the Washington samples contained only 0.8 picocuries per liter (pCi/l), or 0.03 Bq/kg. That level is clearly far lower than the FDA’s DIL for Iodine-131, but is any level of this radiation actually “safe”? And what about the other more serious types of radioactive particles being emitted from Fukushima that authorities appear to not even be looking for?

    “Based on Japanese guidelines for radiation safety, Iodine-131 is the least of our worries. Cesium, uranium, and plutonium all have much lower maximum “concern” thresholds, with plutonium being the most serious. A Bloomberg report explains that just one Bq/kg of plutonium is enough to cause major concern if found in water or milk (http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2011-…). Are authorities testing for plutonium and the other serious radioactive particles that we know have escaped from the Fukushima plant?”

    The heavier radioactive particles (those just described) make their way through the air, water and food chain. Some are being measured, some are not. That means we don’t really know whether we are irradiated with them or not.

    But there is a greater threat from what are known as microparticles of radioactivity. These are molecular-sized particles that travel on the wind like dust and are inhaled or may come in by way of food or water. The point is they are so small that they can be breathed into our systems. Once inside, we are at ground zero. Once inside us, we are radioactive. Heavier particles take longer to arrive, can be detected more easily, may not be breathed in. Microparticles require more sensitive equipment and may not be counted at all and yet are the most dangerous!

    Radiologists and scientists familiar with radiation say there is “no safe dose”, and that a single radioactive microparticle is all it takes to potentially cause cancer.

    Without doubt the media have taken the spotlight off Fukishima, but it continues to leak death into the air and water this very minute and will possibly for decades to come. The world has seen more radioactivity in the past half year than it has in probably any period in history. The question we have to ask is: have human beings evolved defenses to resist this radioactivity? The likelihood is that we have not.

    For this reason we have to do what we can to protect ourselves deliberately:

    You can do these things to protect yourself as far as possible:

    1. Consume potassium iodide (KI) daily to protect your thyroid. Experts conflict as to how much. I have read everything from 130 mg/day for at least 3 months to 250 mcg/day. Your guess is as good as mine as to how much. Excess iodine can cause itching, rashes, and headaches–an allergic reaction. People with sub-clinical or clinical thyroid imbalances may experience hypo- or hyperthyroid symptoms. Hypothyroid symptoms include being cold when others are warm, gaining weight, fluid retention, sluggish thinking, depression. Hyperthyroid symptoms include hot flashes or feeling hot when others are comfortable, agitated sleep, weight loss, rapid thinking, accelerated heart beat and skipping beats. Thyroid swings can be managed, but the effects of radioactivity, or the penalty for not using KI, can be a lot worse and last an entire lifetime.

    2. Eat chlorella, a teaspoon once or twice a day, to chelate (pull out of the body) some of the radioactivity as well as heavy metals. Fulvic acid is also an excellent oral chelator.

    3. Anti-oxidants to repair cell damage caused by radiation: vitamin C, 3 grams a day or to bowel tolerance; vitamin E, 800 IU of d-alpha tocopherol with mixed tocopherols a day; vitamin E as gamma-tocopherol, 200 IU per day; n-acetyl-cysteine, 600 mg twice a day; salmon or krill oil supplying 2000 mg of omega-3 from DHA and EPA; right-alpha lipoic acid, 300 mg a day. There is some controversy about alpha lipoic acid. It is the only anti-oxidant of those listed that crosses the blood-brain barrier and reaches the brain. Normally, this is good because it neutralizes destructive free radicals in the brain, and it also rejuvenates vitamins E and C so that they can continue to neutralize free radicals outside the brain. However, at least one writer on the subject has the belief that alpha lipoic acid, in contact with free radicals caused by radioactivity in the brain, produces undesirable effects. I cannot resolve this contradiction in opinion at this time and choose not to take alpha lipoic acid, in hope that the other anti-oxidants will neutralize radioactivity-caused free radical activity before it crosses the blood-brain barrier.

    4. A teaspoonful of baking soda (sodium bicarbonate) in water once a week may help rid kidneys of accumulating radioactive deposits, so it is said.

  4. curious Says:

    Thank you for the informative post.

    Has anyone heard of recently increasing rates of stillbirth and or miscarriages in Vancouver hospitals and is there any way this could be connected to increased radiation exposure.

    I have some anecdotal evidence and off hand remarks but no one will go beyond that.

    I have seen a few inconclusive studies from Finnland (after Chernobyl) that suggest there may be a correlation between low level radiation poisoning and birth complications. Thanks again and sorry to ask such a troubling question. There may be nothing to it just searching for some answers either way.