Mass. officials: radiation from Japan in rainwater

March 27, 2011

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BOSTON—Radiation from the crippled nuclear plant in Japan is showing up in rain in the United States.

The Massachusetts Department of Public Health said Sunday that very low concentrations of radioiodine-131 that were likely from the Japanese power plant severely damaged by the earthquake and tsunami earlier this month have been detected in a sample of rainwater. Officials did not say where the sample was taken.

The agency said the sample was taken in the past week and is one of more than 100 around the country. It is part of a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency network that monitors for radioactivity.

State officials say similar testing was done in other states, including California, Pennsylvania and Washington, and showed comparable levels of I-131 in rain.

Officials also say there is no health impact to drinking water supplies, but will continue to monitor

"The drinking water supply in Massachusetts is unaffected by this short-term, slight elevation in radiation," said John Auerbach, commissioner of public health.

I-131 has a short duration, lasting eight days, officials said. In addition, finding concentrations of I-131 in rainwater samples is significantly higher than in a lake or pond because falling water is diluted, officials said. As a result, health officials do not expect health concerns.

Testing last week of samples from the Quabbin and Wachusett reservoirs showed no detectable levels of I-131, health officials said.

Energy and Environmental Affairs Secretary Richard K. Sullivan Jr. directed the Department of Environmental Protection to collect additional samples for testing from several water bodies across Massachusetts Sunday. Results will be available over the next several days.

Mounting problems, including badly miscalculated radiation figures and inadequate storage tanks for huge amounts of contaminated water, stymied emergency workers Sunday as they struggled to bring Japan's nuclear complex back from the edge of disaster. Workers were trying to remove the radioactive water from the nuclear compound and restart the regular cooling systems for the dangerously hot fuel.

Company officials initially reported that radiation in leaking water in the Unit 2 reactor was 10 million times above normal, but they later said the huge number was miscalculated.

Nevada and other western states have reported minuscule amounts of radiation are showing up, but scientists say there is no health risk.