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No radiation detected by monitors

Health: Air-quality officials report no signs of fallout on West Coast

Posted: March 18, 2011 1:55 a.m.
Updated: March 18, 2011 1:55 a.m.
 

The U.S. government and scientists insist that there’s no threat of radiation from Japan endangering people on the West Coast — but that hasn’t stopped roughly 1,000 worried Californians from flooding a state hotline.

Complicating the matter in Los Angeles County is a fraudulent e-mail warning residents that radioactive particles released from the Fukushima Nuclear Plant in Japan could mix with rain and “cause burns, alopecia or even cancer.”

The e-mail bears a County of Los Angeles Fire Department logo and theheading “Acid Rain Precautions,” according to a Fire Department statement released Thursday.

“The County of Los Angeles Fire Department has not issued this statement, nor do we believe the statements within the e-mail to be factual,” Public Affairs Battalion Chief Jon O’Brien said in the statement.

County officials recommend seeking information about the Japanese nuclear plant’s impact from a reputable agency.

Los Angeles County Public Health Director Dr. Jonathan Fielding said reputation is “one of those words that get everybody scared, like ‘plague.’”

“But we’re 5,000 miles away,” Fielding said.

Some computer models tracking the possible path of radioactive material from the stricken Japan nuclear reactors suggest it could cross the Pacific, swipe the Aleutian Islands and reach Southern California as early as Friday.

Even if particles waft to the U.S. coast, the amount will be so diluted that it will not pose any health risk. Wind, rain and salt spray will help clean the air over the vast ocean between Japan and the United States.

Nuclear experts say the main elements released are radioactive cesium and iodine. They can combine with the salt in sea water to become cesium chloride and sodium iodide, which are common and abundant elements and would readily dilute in the wide expanse of the Pacific, according to Steven Reese, director of the Radiation Center at Oregon State.

“It is certainly not a threat in terms of human health” added William H. Miller, a professor of nuclear engineering at the University of Missouri.

Earlier this week, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency deployed extra radiation detectors throughout the country to allay public concerns. On Thursday, President Barack Obama said “harmful levels” of radiation from the damaged Japanese nuclear plant are not expected to reach the U.S.

The radiation stations will send real time data via satellite to EPA officials, who will make the data available to the public online. The monitors also contain two types of air filters that detect any radioactive particles and are mailed to EPA’s data center in Alabama.

That information, as well as samples that numerous federal agencies are collecting on the ground and in the air in Japan, also will be sent to the Department of Energy’s atmospheric radioactivity monitoring center in California, where teams are creating sophisticated computer models to predict how radioactive releases at Fukushima could spread into the atmosphere.

Inside Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory near San Francisco, scientists, engineers, and meteorological experts were analyzing those charts and maps to help policymakers predict where radioactive isotopes could travel.

“The models show what happens if the situation gets worse, if the winds change, or if it rains to predict what could happen,” National Nuclear Security Administration spokesman Damien LaVera said. “The Nuclear Regulatory Commission has said they see no radiation at harmful levels reaching the United States, and we’re not seeing anything that is inconsistent with that.”

An arm of the United Nations earlier this week made a forecast of the possible trajectory of the radioactive fallout from Japan. The forecast only showed how it might move, but does not have information about radiation levels.

On Thursday, air quality regulators in Southern California said they have not detected increased levels of radiation.

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