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California, Radiation and the Diplomats

On Friday, this story made the rounds on the blogs:

Earlier on Friday, diplomatic sources in Vienna said data showed tiny amounts of radioactive particles that were believed to have come from Japan's stricken Fukushima plant.

The level of radiation was far too low to cause any harm to humans, they said. One diplomat, citing information from a network of international monitoring stations, described the material as "ever so slight," consisting of only a few particles.

"They are irrelevant," the diplomat added.

Another diplomatic source also said the level was very low.

I’d probably hesitate to set off a potential panic using such a thin reed of information, but at least the “diplomats” made it clear that the  amount of radiation they detected could not cause harm. (More on them here.)

In any event, California is not seeing any radiation:

California air quality officials said on Friday they saw no elevated radiation levels on the U.S. West Coast from Japan's nuclear power plant disaster.

"At this point we're unable to verify if there are any elevated levels," said Ralph Borrmann, a spokesman for the Bay Area Air Quality Management District in San Francisco. "We're not seeing it on our live data in California."

Nor is EPA, though it hedges a bit:

Despite news reports about radiation from the damaged Japanese nuclear power plant reaching America, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency says levels are still within the normal background range.

It sounds like they put it that way for the diplomats’ benefit.

Radiation should never be underplayed where it has the potential to harm life, but conversely, it’s very easy to create panic when there is any reason to believe there is high radiation. But  I hesitate to jump at any source that can say something – anything – about it. Reporters will pounce on it.

But one needn’t jump on rumors. California has Air Quality Management monitoring stations up and down the coast, so if radiation, no matter how trivial the amount, is detected there, they will report it. So far: nothing.

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And then you get this:

Despite assurances by public health officials that radiation from Japan will cause little or no threat to the west coast of the United States, drug stores are selling out of radiation iodide tablets.

Radioactive iodine can collect in the thyroid and result in cancer. Potassium iodide tablets flood the thyroid with iodine so it will not accept any radioactive iodine that is in the environment.

But:

The World Health Organization (WHO) says it has received reports of people being admitted to poison centers around the world after taking iodine tablets.

Fears about harmful levels of radiation coming out of the damaged nuclear power plant in Fukishima has seen panic buying of iodine pills in many countries.

And:

In the wake of the crisis in Japan, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration is advising consumers to beware of inadvertently buying fake iodide products that are supposed to help protect against radiation.

Does that mean people should not buy potassium iodide pills? No, of course not – that’s an individual decision – but it does mean one must take care as sleazy hucksters emerge and one must really understand how to take them so as not to get sick and one really ought to just stow them away. They’ll be there if you need them.

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I’ve referenced this site lately, but Radiations Answers may need another call out. A lot of good information to help you understand the few instances where radiation is dangerous and the many instances where it is not.

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