Fukushima & Radioactivity in Seafood

Fukushima & Radioactivity in Seafood
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The majority of radioactive fallout from the Fukushima nuclear power plant tragedy was absorbed by the Pacific Ocean. What does that mean for seafood safety?

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Below is an approximation of this video’s audio content. To see any graphs, charts, graphics, images, and quotes to which Dr. Greger may be referring, watch the above video.

With prevailing westerly winds over Japan, radioactive fallout from the Fukushima nuclear power plant tragedy was detected throughout North America at levels comparable to those seen 25 years earlier from Chernobyl—the only other category 7 nuclear event in history.

The highest levels of radioactive iodine in rainwater was found in Boise, Idaho, and the highest levels in milk were found in San Francisco—at levels ten times higher than the federal maximum allowed in drinking water, but below that which would be expected to pose a direct threat to U.S. public health.

A controversial paper, however, in the International Journal of Health Sciences suggested the radioactive plume from the nuclear meltdowns in Fukushima may be responsible for a subsequent bump in U.S. mortality, similar to what we saw after Chernobyl—though the authors themselves underscore their research shows merely a correlation, and potential evidence of a causal link, and that more research is necessary.

Of all the radiation released, only a tiny fraction of the fallout reached U.S. shores. Most was absorbed by the Pacific Ocean. What does that mean for seafood safety?

Researchers “report unequivocal evidence that Pacific bluefin tuna…[have] transported Fukushima-derived [radioactive fallout] across the entire North Pacific Ocean.” Tuna actually migrate from Japan to California, and appeared to have taken some radioactivity with them.

Even though there was a ten-fold spike in radioactive cesium levels in tuna, they put it in context by noting the baseline levels of radioactivity in fish—even before Fukushima—due to everything from thermonuclear weapons tests and sunken nuclear submarines, to just radioactive elements found naturally in the earth’s crust. The levels in seawater of radioactive polonium, for example, are minuscule, but it strongly bioaccumulates up the food chain into fish.

This is the same polonium used in the horrific assassination of Russian dissident Litvinenko. That’s the same polonium in fish. It’s a by-product of uranium decay, and frequently cited as one of the reasons that tobacco is so carcinogenic—something the tobacco industry was well aware of, and could have easily removed. But, the process that could have removed the polonium affected the absorbability of nicotine. And, “[t]he loss of the nicotine “kick” sensation was found unacceptable by industry executives.” So, they kept the polonium in.

The radioactive polonium in cigarettes has been speculatively blamed for the link between smoking and male infertility. But, most of human exposure to polonium comes from diet—mostly from fish and shellfish. And, this was before Fukushima. So, what then happens if you eat seafood?

Researchers measured the increase in radioactive polonium levels in semen after a single seafood meal. It caused a 300% spike in levels. Probably not enough to cause infertility, but that was just one meal. Whether the kind of dose you can get from eating seafood would be enough to damage sperm enough still needs to be established. You may have to eat as much as a pound of seafood a month before one might realize the harmful effects of the radiation.

Interestingly, there’s eight times more polonium in cooked shrimp than in raw shrimp. Isn’t that fascinating? They think it’s because most of the polonium is in the shrimps’ internal organs, which is released into the boiling water, and contaminates the muscle. So, gutting crustaceans before cooking may decrease radiation exposure.

Please consider volunteering to help out on the site.

Below is an approximation of this video’s audio content. To see any graphs, charts, graphics, images, and quotes to which Dr. Greger may be referring, watch the above video.

With prevailing westerly winds over Japan, radioactive fallout from the Fukushima nuclear power plant tragedy was detected throughout North America at levels comparable to those seen 25 years earlier from Chernobyl—the only other category 7 nuclear event in history.

The highest levels of radioactive iodine in rainwater was found in Boise, Idaho, and the highest levels in milk were found in San Francisco—at levels ten times higher than the federal maximum allowed in drinking water, but below that which would be expected to pose a direct threat to U.S. public health.

A controversial paper, however, in the International Journal of Health Sciences suggested the radioactive plume from the nuclear meltdowns in Fukushima may be responsible for a subsequent bump in U.S. mortality, similar to what we saw after Chernobyl—though the authors themselves underscore their research shows merely a correlation, and potential evidence of a causal link, and that more research is necessary.

Of all the radiation released, only a tiny fraction of the fallout reached U.S. shores. Most was absorbed by the Pacific Ocean. What does that mean for seafood safety?

Researchers “report unequivocal evidence that Pacific bluefin tuna…[have] transported Fukushima-derived [radioactive fallout] across the entire North Pacific Ocean.” Tuna actually migrate from Japan to California, and appeared to have taken some radioactivity with them.

Even though there was a ten-fold spike in radioactive cesium levels in tuna, they put it in context by noting the baseline levels of radioactivity in fish—even before Fukushima—due to everything from thermonuclear weapons tests and sunken nuclear submarines, to just radioactive elements found naturally in the earth’s crust. The levels in seawater of radioactive polonium, for example, are minuscule, but it strongly bioaccumulates up the food chain into fish.

This is the same polonium used in the horrific assassination of Russian dissident Litvinenko. That’s the same polonium in fish. It’s a by-product of uranium decay, and frequently cited as one of the reasons that tobacco is so carcinogenic—something the tobacco industry was well aware of, and could have easily removed. But, the process that could have removed the polonium affected the absorbability of nicotine. And, “[t]he loss of the nicotine “kick” sensation was found unacceptable by industry executives.” So, they kept the polonium in.

The radioactive polonium in cigarettes has been speculatively blamed for the link between smoking and male infertility. But, most of human exposure to polonium comes from diet—mostly from fish and shellfish. And, this was before Fukushima. So, what then happens if you eat seafood?

Researchers measured the increase in radioactive polonium levels in semen after a single seafood meal. It caused a 300% spike in levels. Probably not enough to cause infertility, but that was just one meal. Whether the kind of dose you can get from eating seafood would be enough to damage sperm enough still needs to be established. You may have to eat as much as a pound of seafood a month before one might realize the harmful effects of the radiation.

Interestingly, there’s eight times more polonium in cooked shrimp than in raw shrimp. Isn’t that fascinating? They think it’s because most of the polonium is in the shrimps’ internal organs, which is released into the boiling water, and contaminates the muscle. So, gutting crustaceans before cooking may decrease radiation exposure.

Please consider volunteering to help out on the site.

Image thanks to FukushimaWatch

Doctor's Note

Unfortunately, our oceans have become humanity’s sewers. Everything eventually flows down into the sea. This has implications for other aspects of seafood safety:

More on infertility in:

Cigarette manufacturers’ protection of stockholders over the public is not unique to that sector. More industry hijinks in:

The greatest radiation exposure risk comes not from Fukushima fallout, or the polonium naturally found in seafood, but from doctors. Check out Cancer Risk from CT Scan Radiation

For further context, also see my associated blog posts: Top 10 Most Popular Videos of 2013How Risky Are CT Scans?Fukushima Radiation & SeafoodAre Dental X-Rays Safe?Dealing with Air Travel Radiation Exposure; and Ginger & Lemon Balm for Radiation Exposure.

If you haven’t yet, you can subscribe to my videos for free by clicking here.

51 responses to “Fukushima & Radioactivity in Seafood

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  1. Do you ever feel like, i dont know, i just cant shake this overpowering urge to dig a big hole in the back yard and climb in.

    Obituary: Planet Earth, aged 4.5 billion years, finally died of a thousand cuts. Donations may be sent to the glow-in-the-dark roach foundation.

  2. A bunch of USA’s food is grown in California, lots of fruit and veggies and nuts and seeds…..wondering if that toxic air drifting over from Japan lends itself to the accumulation of this junk in our vegan staples?! What’s going to happen if/when one of California’s nuke reactors implodes due to an earthquake?

  3. This huge problem is brought to you by the Nuclear Industry that wants to play with forces that are far from being adequately understood…

  4. A “pound a month” would be extremely easy to meet, I would think. On more than one occasion, I have heard “experts” recommend eating fish at least once a week. Eat fish 4 times a month and one could easily hit a pound. While I understand that the science is not yet conclusive, if the suggested harmful limit of a pound a month is true, then bye, bye sperm for those males following mainstream nutrition advice.

    On one hand, I think, “so sad”. On the other hand, there are too many humans already ruining the oceans. …

  5. This is the biggest experiment of them all: How many years will it take for one species to destroy a planet. Within the last 100 – 200 years we have polluted the oceans with dioxin, mercury, nuclear waste and prescription drugs, polluted the air with dust, smoke and harmful gases from the burning of fossil fuels such as coal, oil, natural gas, and gasoline, not to mention the greenhouse effect, we have destroyed the ozone layer making it dangerous to get vitamin D from its original source – the sun, deforestation to produce livestock (which ironically turns out to kill us prematurely), species become extinct because of human behaviour, we process food so much that it does not look like food anymore, and then wonder why we get sick, we release GMO into the environment etc, etc…….Humans are great….

  6. Dr. Greger, You’ve done a number of videos on the health benefits of Green Tea. But what about radioactivity in Green Tea imported from Japan or China? How can we be sure the tea we’re drinking is safe?

    1. Good question. But radioactive muck is only one factor. Chinese rice is loaded with cadmium, but so is clean, green New Zealand produce and meat: http://www.3news.co.nz/The-dangers-of-Cadmium/tabid/367/articleID/293891/Default.aspx?ref=video_2012-11-22

      “In New Zealand the group with the highest cadmuim levels are the vegetarians…”

      and the meat that is too poisonous to export?… cat and dog food.

      So how do we know our food is safe? We dont, we cant, We are powerless. I tried to make my own soil, but if the raw materials are loaded with heavy metal, then so is the compost.

      In the USA it is arsenic in rice. This is just the little icy tip of the berg we see/hear about. What behemoths are lurking beneath the surface?

      I know. Lets reproduce ourselves faster. 8, 9 10 billions. Vison that one. The teeming masses all working and praying together to make the Commons a paradise. la la la Technology will save us. Run Logan, Run!

      1. Call them and ask how much fluoride is in the tea. Ask if they have even measured it. Organic or non-organic tea, apparently tea pulls a lot of fluoride from soil. Do you add lemon to tea? I’ve read that adding lemon to tea dramatically increases aluminum in the tea.

        1. BLACK tea already has high levels of AL in it. The lemon makes the absorption rate go up a bit.
          Herbal tea has much less AL in it.

    2. As for teas from Japan, you may want to look
      for teas grown in regions far south of Fukushima– especially the Kagoshima prefecture, the second largest tea-growing area and thousands of kilometres away. A windshift during a critical period brought radionuclides back onto some parts of the main island. Initially, some samples of teas from Shizuoka, Japan’s largest tea-growing region, showed evidence of Fukushima’s footprint; according to the Shizuoka prefecture,teas tested in 2012 and 2013 appeared to be safe.

      Still, Japan’s federal government says that
      tea leaves are among the “food items from which 1/2 of the
      maximum limits for radioactive cesium has been detected,” and monitoring is continuing. (That’s from a March 2014
      statement.)

      I’ve been reporting on the story for a while now. Mushrooms and seaweeds seem to soak up radionuclides like sponges. What’s really pissing me off is restaurants outside of Japan selling dishes made with potentially contaminated ingredients, including Japan’s fish.

      Japan’s system of monitoring leaves lots of power in the hands of the locals, not the feds. That, too, is disturbing.

      See http://zesterdaily.com/world/should-you-avoid-post-tsunami-seafood-from-japan/

      For more on tea, see http://eatandbeatcancer.wordpress.com/2013/01/10/anti-cancer-recipe-have-a-berry-merry-tea-party/.

      Could somebody tell me how to create hyperlinks in these comments?

  7. I’m not convinced by the Mangano & Sherman paper ( economic factors like foreclosures were hitting hard in the U.S. at the time http://www.plosmedicine.org/article/info%3Adoi%2F10.1371%2Fjournal.pmed.1000087 ).

    As xenobiotic hormesis appears to be an important mechanism for disease prevention by whole plant based diets, I think its worth perusing the extensive literature on its academic predecessor radiation hormesis ( http://scholar.google.com/scholar?hl=en&q=radiation+hormesis ), as a number of cellular mechanisms are shared. A worthwhile summary presentation: http://www.dose-response.org/conference/2006/powerpoint/Scott.pdf As its a difficult argument I don’t expect hormesis to appear in mainstream sources in the near-term, but I believe I’m far from the first health oriented vegan to find the subject fascinating.

  8. The “study” you cited about infant deaths is more than controversial, it is downright shamefullly bad science. As Michael Moyer pointed out in Scientific American, if they had not just compared deaths in the four weeks prior to the Fukushima Daiichi accident and rather had gone back to the beginning of the year, they would have discovered that infant mortality had actually declined. Not saying that the accident wasn’t bad or dangerous (I live only 100 miles from the damned thing!) but that study was not at all scientific and IMHO does not deserve to be referenced here.

  9. When I was a child, my mother would take me to Buster Brown Shoes. Back in those days, I climbed up on this boxy thing and had my feet x-rayed. 65 years later, I’m wondering whether I’m going to get cancer of the feet.

    1. that’s the funniest comment i’ve read for a long time anywhere. I remember standing in line at a school and being given a pink sugar cube of polio vaccine, we all thought it was so wonderful. And we all had a huge scar on our upper arm near the shoulder from the ugly small pox caused by those immunizations. My scar is still visible.

  10. Hi Dr. Greger, first of all I like to thank you and your staff for doing such a wonderful job informing the public on nutritional health.I’ve got a question and wondering if you have any opinion or answers to them, your time is greatly appreciated. I’ve noticed you’ve placed a great deal of emphasis on eating and incorporating green leafies in our diet for optimal health, however with the recent years fukushima catastrophe, could you give us any real information on how safe consuming these broad leaf vegetables really are, especially if you’re near the west coast, there seems to be so much misinformation out on the internet there is much confusion. I try to adopt healthy eating habits for my family, and I spread the vegan gospel, whenever I can, to my friends and community alike, but I’m particularly concerned for children bc they’re more vulnerable due to their growth development. Thank you

  11. LOL 120 – 138 lung cancer deaths per year per 1000 smokers!

    Not a single person would smoke and not a single siggarette would be sold if it were anywhere near those numbers. That’s just a complete fabrication those numbers.

    I would be dead 3 times over as would half the people who smoked for 4 years. This is clearly not true as most smokers only start showing irreversable debillitating signs of damage after decades of smoking.

    I got a lot of respect for you Dr. Greger after watching numerous usefull video’s, problem is always that reputation is lost faster than it is gained.

    This just shreds your reputation quoting obvious nonsense, you should remove this video or at least the quoted smokers research bit. Since its clearly fuzzy math and done or written by chimps.

    I’ll be watching out for disinformation in your video’s a lot more keenly from now on, as you are degraded from guru to meer mortal :)

    Regards, Arjan den Hollander.

    1. never be led blindly, always question authority, learn how to KNOW the best science available.

      Dr. Greger and I don’t agree exactly on everything, but I dare say that most who don’t eat as he suggests-suffer from it.

      Helped me bunches. Just one tiny example GERD had completely stopped my “fizzy water” consumption. Yesterday I got to ENJOY a San Pellegrino for the first time in years. Today I went French with the classic Perrier. Of course weight is down and all that other “jazz”.

      PS: I simply don’t care what he says about tobacco or smoking because I quit nicotine (second time is TUFF, but i never burned it-cannot stand ciggy smoke (both parents smoked through my childhood), instant headache and stuffiness and stinkyism.) long before I learned how to eat properly. Some smokey things aren’t so terrible.

  12. Dear Dr. Greger,

    I am concerned about the Fukushima radiation effecting California farms. Most of the berries and vegetables my family consumes are grown in California, near the Pacific Ocean. I would like to know if our foods contaminated by radiation? Organic or not aren’t all farms exposed? Are there any studies on matter?

    I haven’t found any solid evidence but there are alarming articles online about the situaiton: http://www.nationofchange.org/new-uc-berkeley-test-reveals-fantastically-high-cesium-levels-california-roadside-1392911534

  13. AMERICAN POLICY….You don’t get sick we don’t make money. Brought to you by FDA USDA EPA and any other paid off Greedy branch. For the corporation by the corporation.

  14. Please, please Dr. Greger, will you put your world-class resources to bear in giving us all an overdue update on the ongoing Fukushima radiation exposure in our food supply. There are many Independent Scientists documenting total loss of multiple species along West Coast areas, and this runs the gamet from sea vegetables to ocean animals. What about the very high levels recorded way inland and on both coasts? Doesn’t this beg the question of possible contamination of NA’s prime agricultural land? We have no other way to be informed because our government agencies are in total blackout and suppression of independent data collectors is widespread. It has been nearly 4 years now, and the pace and degree and complexity of the contamination has accelerated, not diminished, and as we all know, radioactive contamination bio-accumulates which means whatever snapshot was taken years ago of this problem is irresponsibly misleading. Someone needs to help us and I think you are qualified for this job.

      1. This so-called nutrition advocacy site only monitors negative comments. They do not respond to what I would consider to be truly citizen interactive requests which matter to us.

        1. We’re working on it! I see the comments, but we have so many! Thanks for your patience I’ll look into an update ASAP and put it right here! I wrote about BMAA in a more recent post. Many are inquiring about the safety of algae, too. I intend to tackle these topics in a new post. Please stay tuned!

  15. Interesting they didn’t test to see if degutted shrimp had less radiation after cooked. My guess is cooking also increases the toxic load of all types, such as pesticides on produce.

  16. Radioactive waste will continue to pour into the Pacific at Fukushima for another 100 years or more, according to Arnie Gundersen, co-founder and chief engineer at Fairewinds Energy Education. For the truth about Fukushima see this 20 min. talk by nuclear energy expert Arnie Gundersen, who’s life mission is to freely and courageously share with the world his knowledge and ongoing research on nuclear energy safety. Arnie exudes the same generous spirit and scientific grounding as Dr. Greger as they both try to help us understand what is healthy for our bodies and our planet. http://www.fairewinds.org/fukushima/

  17. And to think all of these health and environmental scares would be avoided if human beings never existed! Goodness, we sure love to ruin everything!

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