> Radiation from Japan reaches B.C. shores

Radiation from Japan reaches B.C. shores

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Kris Starosta, SFU Chemistry, 778.782.8861, starosta@sfu.ca
Dixon Tam, SFU media relations, 778.782.8742, 604.417.0881 (cell); dixont@sfu.ca
Carol Thorbes, PAMR, 778.782.3035; cthorbes@sfu.ca

Slides from today's news conference
The 131I PDF file is the spectra of the rainwater collected on Burnaby Mountain. The Seaweed file is the two seaweed measurements taken March 17 & 24 and the Rainwater file shows the concentration of 131I in the rainwater over the course of a few weeks

March 28, 2011

Simon Fraser University researchers are attributing increased levels of the radioisotope iodine-131 in B.C. seaweed and rainwater samples to the Fukushima Dai-Ichi nuclear reactor situation in Japan.

Japanese officials have been working to prevent a nuclear meltdown after cooling systems failed following a magnitude 9.0 earthquake earlier this month that was accompanied by a tsunami. Medical and pharmaceutical industries use iodine-131; it’s also present in nuclear fission products.

SFU nuclear scientist Kris Starosta is confident Fukushima is responsible for the recent discovery, but he cautions there is no immediate danger to the public.

“As of now, the levels we’re seeing are not harmful to humans. We’re basing this on Japanese studies following the Chernobyl incident in 1986 where levels of iodine-131 were four times higher than what we’ve detected in our rainwater so far,” Starosta explains. “Studies of nuclear incidents and exposures are used to define radiation levels at which the increase in cancer risk is statistically significant. When compared to the information we have today, we have not reached levels of elevated risk.”

The jet stream is carrying the radiation from Japan to North America. Most of the radioactivity disperses in the atmosphere and falls over the Pacific Ocean on its way over, but some of it has now reached the west coast, falling down with rain, and mixing with seawater. It’s also accumulating in seaweed.

The rainwater tested was collected at SFU’s campus on Burnaby Mountain and in downtown Vancouver, while seaweed samples were collected in North Vancouver near the Seabus terminal. Researchers began monitoring rainwater earlier this month but did not see the signature for iodine-131 in samples taken March 16 and March 18. However, they did detect the radioisotope’s signature in samples from March 19, 20 and 25.

Here are the results from the tests (measured in decays of iodine-131 per second per litre of rainwater – Bq/l):

  • March 18: 0 (2) Bq/l
  • March 19: 9 (2) Bq/l
  • March 20: 12 (2) Bq/l
  • March 25: 11 (2) Bq/l

“The only possible source of iodine-131 in the atmosphere is a release from a nuclear fission,” says Starosta. “Iodine-131 has a half life of eight days, thus we conclude the only possible release which could happen is from the Fukushima incident.”

Starosta and his team of SFU researchers – Rachel Ashley, Aaron Chester, Svetlana Avramova and Ken Myrtle – will continue monitoring iodine-131 levels.  Seaweed samples taken from Barkley Sound on Vancouver Island’s west coast are also being tested. Starosta predicts iodine-131 will be detected in B.C. 3-4 weeks after the Fukushima nuclear reactor stops releasing radioactivity into the atmosphere.

-- 30 --


Comment Guidelines


In light of the news that Plutonium has been found in the soil around the nuclear plant are you going to be testing for other types of Radioactive fallout? ie Caesium-137 or Caesium-134?


Hi, I'm an immigrant from Japan living in Burnaby, and who was potdoc of SFU in Dept. of Biological Sciences.

I think, this article would be wonderful if it contained additional paragraph to describe that levels of the detected radioactive material does not affect human health. And water and agricultural products does not affected by such very low level. In addition, information what amount of Iodine-131, or what level of exposure could affect human body, so that everybody who read this article can understand BC is safe, at the same time.

General readers have no knowledge or information or skills to collect information to determine whether this level of radioactive material is safe, or not. If they read this article, they just feel fear of radioactive substances. Some citizens may are be rush to buy bottled water after reading this article or a tweet. Such panic is really happening in Japan or some other countries.

Please think about this. Thanks.


It's so good to know that local scientists are measuring for radiation isotopes and looking out for the public. What scares me is how fast can it become unsafe and I just hate to think of this stuff landing here and possibly messing our beautiful environment up.

Richard Ajabu

It would be less confusing if the researchers would calculate and publish in units of uSv/hr so that direct comparison with food and water radiation measurements from Japan could be made (they publish the measurements in uSv/hr).


what species has been tested.

Neil McLardy

The Team

Excellent info for we coastal folk. . Vital perhaps critical.Thank You All.

Anyone 'local' monitoring and reporting other isotopes ? in the air & ocean (Japanese current(s)in our coastal waters), water supplies, crops and livestock, ocean(s)foodchain etc.?

Dr. Edwards on CTV National this morn.

estimated Fukushima now surpassing Chenobyl in at least one regard. Possibly total fuel melted ?


It would be very helpful if daily readings were reported somewhere where the general public could check them on a daily basis and decide how they wanted to react to them.


which is the minimum and the maximum level of radiation that can harm humans health



What about internal emitters? Nobody is disputing that background levels from this are not a hazard. All these reassurances and inappropriate comparisons to background radiation, but not a peep about internal bio-accumulation. Maybe that is why some people are taking genuine and honest steps to mitigate, because we do not want any exposure that can be reasonably avoided.

I am not a scientist, but I am not an fool either. Just a young, health conscious individual frustrated by 'perception management'.


@Lena: Your right that the current levels as an acute dose aren't generally harmful to human health, BUT if these levels are sustained, that's a completely different story (e.g., c-137 fallout is cumulative). Let's hope this doesn't continue for much longer.


It is stated here unequivocally that the jet stream is transporting the radiation from Japan. I am curious which of the over 200 Isotopes released in such events are capable of wafting that high into the atmosphere and are the more deadly uranium derivatives such as plutonium able to do so? Also please explain how we are able to detect radiation here 5000 miles away yet folks 21 miles from the plant are safe. Also please comment on "safe standards." Who sets them? Are they being risen as they are in the states? And why does exposure levels contrast comments from Dr. Helen Caldicott who claims there are no safe levels? Finally. why has Vancouver "stopped" or ceased using detection units and what exactly do they detect of the the 200 radio nucloids now in our atmosphere?

Delores Broten

Have you done any further readings this week, particularly in seaweed since it bioaccumulates - and perhaps not of iodine 131 but maybe cesium or one of the other longer-lived isotopes which are much more likely to accumulate over the weeks of releases. Not my area of knowledge, but with Persistent Organic Pollutants the issue is usually not the initial exposure but rather the bioaccumulation, and the longer lived radicals are much more likely to travel in the food chain. Not to mention in the snow pack!


Any chance Kris and his team can test the soil on dairy farms? Government is refusing to do so; comforting to have independent sources willing to report on elevated levels!

Robert Partridge

you seem to be the only "agency" who has been giving hard numbers throughout this crisis. Health Canada has their head in the sand. The government leadership seems to act as if it hasn't happened at all.

I would like to know if the levels can be transmitted daily. What is crucial is the radioactive levels in the drinking water. Can you expand on that?

Jack Roane

This article fails to acknowledge that 11 Bq/L is equal to 297.3 picocuries per liter.

The federal drinking water standard for Iodine-131 is 3 pCi/L.

Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry for Iodine, CDC, April 2004:

EPA has set an average annual drinking water limit of 3 pCi/L for Iodine-131 so the public radiation dose will not exceed 4 millirem

So if the rainwater contains almost 100 times the limit, how is this safe?


Word on that Leela, I've been saying this all along.

george farnsworth

Any increase in radiation over

the normal background increases risk of cancer.Even the normal background

causes an estimated 10,000 to

50,000 deaths per year in the US.


100 times above safety level and that's no health risk... This is why our students and general public are so dumbed down...


I'm reading that 12 Bq/l is over 100 times the legal limit for US drinking water.

If 12 Bq/l is safe, why is the limit so low in the US?

Not arguing, just curious, not my area of expertise.

douglas mckenzie

We did not weave the web of life, We are merely a strand in it. Whatever we do to the web, we do to ourselves." � Chief Seattle

Okay so maybe whatever makes it to the atmosphere isn't harmful, but what about the ocean water and the ocean current that have been affected. What about the ocean creatures. Hello! Food chain! Goddamn it this is elementary school science people. You don't need SFU to tell you that Radiation can affect our food.

george farnsworth


The truth is its not safe.


I have the same questions as many of the posters. Especially regarding units/limits (as Jack mentioned), as well as any chance of getting some up-to-date data feeds?

It might also be helpful to know where detection systems are located that are sensitive enough to detect radioactivity in both air and water.

Personally, my trust in what the gov't is saying is vanished.

Thanks for your work.

Darcy from Kamloops

Since your video presentation was done nearly a month ago now, as it is now April 26th, and the situation at Fukushima has deteriorated massively, and information is now coming out that the amount of radiation that has been leaking is 1000's of times higher than previously reported by Tepco, and that they see no foreseeable containment for at least the next 9 to 12 months (minimum), why has there been no further follow up and testing of water, foods, ground, etc? I realize you are hardly under obligation to do any testing, but since you did take it on with your original post, I think it would be only prudent to do some follow up with the situation so much worse now. Obviously, the government is doing everything in it's power to avoid any information about the severity of the impact of this on our health and they actually refuse to entertain the idea of precautionary testing, still insisting there is absolutely no danger to the public. My ass there isn't. The only thing that would prove we are actually that stupid, would be if we believed what they are shoveling down our throats, and voted for them again.

It seems a bit futile to make comments on this story, as there seems to be no responses to any of the previous inquiries, but I am curious.


Great that SFU is carrying out tests. I hope these are continuing. Where are the results made public?

For the federal government, whose responsibility it is to measure and monitor radioactivity in our air, water and food, does not make any such data available. It is not even clear that they are carrying out these measurements.

Health Canada �Dose Data from Fixed Point Surveillance Network� (http://www.hc-sc.gc.ca/ewh-semt/contaminants/radiation/surveill/data-donnees/index-eng.php) only contains data up to 2010. Moreover, the network only measures Argon-41, Xenon-133 and Xenon-135, but not Caesium 134 and 137 as well as other radionuclids released in Fukushima. Reportedly, additional mobile measuring stations were installed on the west coast in response to the Fukushima disaster. But information about the location of these stations, if they are still operative, radioactive substances measured and results are not to be found anywhere. Daily dose rates measured at federal monitoring stations in B.C are supposed to be found via a link at the MetroVancouver website. But the link is broken and the information cannot be found/ accessed. Metro Vancouver drinking water measurements are only posted up to April 11.

Are SFU scientist helping to put pressure on the government and media to collect and release this data pertinent to our long term health? I have been working on this for the past week, contacting media and politicians.

The reactors in Fukushima are not stabilized yet. We need to know what radioactivity levels are and will be in our fish, milk, and drinking water. Everyone, pressure the government for it!

mike b

so why haa canada suspended mobile radiation measurements?And also why has canada moved the radiation testers from victoria all the way up to kamloops??,milk in spokane,washington is contaminated but were too stupid to see it that in vancouver that we are also contaminated,straberries and mushrooms in california have cesium 137,and 5 of 6 items tested in the food chain have tested positive for radioactive particles....enenews is a reliable source.the fukushima leakage can NOT be compared with natural background radiation,radioactive cesium dosent even exist naturally.The e.p.a has once again raised the safe level of radiation.Plutonium is 1000 times more deadly than uranium and chernobyl never emitted uranium like fukushima is...people need to wake up,you cannot see taste or smell it so you wont know you are affected until years later(watch a youtube video with a woman named Dr.helen caldicott. b.c residents to ask about milk testing our milk products for radiation lucerne call calgary 925-944-4646 or dairyland burnaby 604 420 6611 for radiation testing in vancouver.global t.v(news and tips hotline@ 604 422 6494,i hope this helps someone out there as i cannot find any information in british columbia after april 11th...they thought it was safe in april well as i type this it is may,9th,2011 at 10'54pm and the plan is still leaking in fukushima,we need proper research done not only from government but independent research as well

sincerley mike b


Still no new data here. But Prof. Starosta is not alone in his silence (I left 2 phone messages 2 weeks ago asking if SFU had any recent data on radionuclid monitoring of water, food and air--no response to date). Metro Vancouver told me on April 29 their lab tests of drinking were back-logged. But nothing has been posted on their website since then. Although EPA data showed another spike of atmospheric radiation around April 26 and again since then (the Norwegian meteorological models predicted 20-400Bq/m2 of radioactive Caesium and Iodine in rainwater over BC coast April around April 24/25). I would like to know what the actual values were. Health Canada finally updated their air monitoring data on their website a couple of days before the elections. But where is the data, where are the test for rain water (which essentially is our drinking water in Vancouver) and bioaccumulating foods, such as milk, leafy greens, seaweed, seafood (particularly from Japan)?? We need to keep asking for answers to these questions. It is the federal, provincial and regional governments that are responsible for protecting public health and collecting the data that allows for that--not universities. Although, as an SFU alumni, I had expected at least a response to my inquiries. So what is the reason for the absence of data and communication? Perhaps just that it's too scary?


SFU is doing us a favour by monitoring radioactivity because nobody else is doing it. They don't get any reward for that. Wonder how much of their precious time is dedicated to this task to keep some people happy. It's not the duty of SFU to respond to all inquiries. Some authorities (which ones?) are supposed to do the job.