Officials assure B.C. public after Washington state milk sees radiation increase
Rebekah Funk, The Canadian Press
Milk waiting to be tested sit on shelves in a cooler last week at the Environmental Protection Agency's National Air and Radiation Environmental Laboratory in Montgomery, Ala. The laboratory has added a few extra contract workers because of the threat from Japan, officials say.
VANCOUVER - Canada's food inspection agency will not increase testing on milk and other food products in British Columbia, despite slight increases in radioactivity found in milk south of the border because of the ongoing nuclear crisis in Japan.
And health officials reassured B.C. residents Thursday that they have no need to worry about radiation from milk produced on the West Coast, after tests showed the slight rise in the radioactive isotope Iodine-131 in milk from Washington state and California.
Alice d'Anjou, spokeswoman for the federal food inspection agency, said the CFIA is monitoring the situation closely, in collaboration with Health Canada, and there has not yet been any indication that officials need to test milk or other food products for safety.
"Because of the levels of radiation that we are seeing right now, there is no risk to Canadian plants, food or people," she said. "Should the situation change, we will absolutely, we are prepared to take additional measures."
Health Canada and the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission are the organizations responsible for daily radiation monitoring and have indicated no need for the food inspection agency to test food products, d'Anjou said.
"I've been talking about this stuff for two weeks and saying, 'There is no risk,' — and truly, truly, I believe that," she said.
Japan's Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power complex has been leaking radiation since a devastating earthquake and tsunami struck on March 11, and the fallout is being monitored around the world.
To combat public concern in the aftermath of the nuclear plant failure, Health Canada set up additional monitoring stations on B.C.'s coast to test environmental radiation levels and so far, only "minuscule" levels of radioactivity have been detected.
Tests have found less than one millionth the amount of radiological material shown to cause thyroid diseases, according to the B.C. Centre for Disease Control. This means a person would have to drink over three million glasses of contaminated rainwater at one time to reach a "concerning" level.
"People do not need to stop drinking milk," said the centre's spokeswoman, Ritinder Harry. "There's no need for concern.
"The levels of radioiodine that's been measured in Washington state are extremely low. And while traces like that do show that we need to monitor B.C.-produced foods for traces of dilute radioactivity, the levels are far below internationally-accepted levels of concern."
Radiation levels detected last week in milk from Spokane, Wash., were 5,000 times lower than acceptable food radiation limits in the United States, according to the country's Food and Drug Administration.
D'Anjou said there's no need to test food because the only risk of contamination to Canada's food supply would occur if there were high radiation levels in the wind or water, both variables that have been ruled out by the Health Canada monitoring stations.
"Our testing is so sophisticated at this point that, were there to be a shift — a marked shift — in [levels], it would show up."
The agency conducts annual tests for background radiation levels in food, she said, so inspectors are able to detect even microscopic contamination levels that would not have any impact on consumer health.
D'Anjou said most Canadians don't realize how much background radiation they're exposed to in their natural environments. Eighty per cent of radiation exposure is due to naturally occurring sources.
"There's radiation from the sun, there's radiation from rocks — the ambient radiation level varies depending where you are. A rainy day apparently can increase the ambient radiation level," D'Anjou said.
Japan's health ministry announced Thursday it has ordered more tests after a cow slaughtered for beef near the tsunami-stricken nuclear plant was found to have radioactive contamination slightly higher than the legal limit.
Contamination has already been found in vegetables and raw milk near the plant.
The cow had a total cesium level of 510 becquerels per kilogram. The limit is 500, but officials said a person could eat beef with that level of contamination for decades without getting sick.
— With files from The Associated Press