Greenpeace Identifies High Contamination Levels in Vegetables

City Mayor, Residents Criticise Government Information Vacuum

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Feature story - April 6, 2011
Greenpeace radiation experts in Japan have discovered high levels of contamination in crops grown on the outskirts of Minamisoma city, further raising concerns over health risks to residents.

Radioactive Contamination Found in Vegetables

Greenpeace radiation expert Rianne Teule (from South Africa) checks crops for contamination in Minamisoma, 25km North of the stricken Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant. Greenpeace is on a second field trip in the area to monitor radioactive contamination of food and soil to estimate health risks to the local population.

A Greenpeace radiation monitoring team tested spinach and other vegetables from the gardens of Minamisoma city residents, revealing radiation levels many times higher than official limits.

“In several Minamisoma gardens, the vegetables were too contaminated for consumption,” said Greenpeace radiation expert Rianne Teule who is leading the food testing team.

“The owner of one garden with contaminated spinach told us that she had received no information from authorities on the radiation risks to her crops, despite reports that government tests on plants in Minamisoma have been underway since March 18.”

The government has been publishing raw data from its own field monitoring, however, its assessment is currently far from comprehensive. Further radiation measurements made by the team in several parts of Minamisoma city show levels up to 4.5 microSievert per hour, which contrasts with the only official monitoring point in Minamisoma City which shows the relatively low levels of 0.7 microSievert per hour.

“While the Japanese government’s data is not necessarily incorrect, it is neither telling the full story, nor being adequately used to protect the health of people in Minamisoma” said radiation expert Jan Vande Putte, who is leading one of the Greenpeace radiation monitoring teams.

“Our measurements, taken between government monitoring points, show elevated levels of contamination outside the official 20km mandatory evacuation zone that indicate a risk to health, yet people in Minamisoma are only being advised to stay indoors or leave on a voluntary basis. This is unacceptable.”

The Mayor of Minamisoma, Katsunobu Sakurai, expressed his frustration to Greenpeace, citing a lack of reliable information or clear advice from TEPCO and the authorities regarding the risks this crisis is posing to his community.

“TEPCO has been irresponsible. This was clearly demonstrated when it took 11 days for it to speak to us after the accident. The government has also not supplied us with any kind of report that we can understand,” said Sakurai. “We are asking the government to not only to supply enough information about what has happened, but also that it guarantee that it will respond responsibly to possible future risks.”

Further measurements in the region, such as in a rural area near the village of Tsushima, 30km from the Fukushima/Daiichi nuclear plant, and just outside the 30km voluntary evacuation zone, also found contamination levels of up to 47 microsieverts per hour, compared to the 32.7 reported by the authorities. Exposure at this level means the maximum allowable dose for a year being achieved in under 24 hours.

“There continues to be an urgent need for not only reliable data from Japans government, but also meaningful interpretation and advice about the risks of radioactive contamination in food and the environment so the people affected by this disaster can protect both their health and their livelihoods,” said Vande Putte.

“The authorities must urgently re-evaluate the evacuation zone around the Fukushima nuclear plant to better reflect radiation levels being found across the region.”