Calls for seafood tests due to radiation leak in Japan

Fishermen take part in a census of fish near the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant on May 27, 2013. American nuclear experts say Pacific seafood sold in the U.S. should be tested for contamination from the crippled plant.

Scientists previously reported higher-than-expected concentrations of radiation in fish off Japan. Now there are calls for testing of seafood sold in the U.S.

Nuclear experts are calling on the U.S. government to test West Coast waters and Pacific seafood sold in the U.S. in the wake of Japan's alarming admission about an ongoing radiation leak.

The Tokyo Electric Power Co. acknowledged last week that 300 tons of contaminated water from its crippled Fukushima nuclear plant has been seeping daily into the ocean since a devastating earthquake and tsunami in March 2011.

Related: Fukushima power plant admits there might be a leak

Although contaminated air, rainfall and even radioactive debris from Japan have drifted toward the U.S. West Coast since the disaster occurred 2 1/2 years ago, scientists are unclear about how the contaminated waters could impact the health of Americans.

Fukushima seafood contamination: Fishermen take part in a fish count near the Fukushima nuclear power plantEnvironmental Research Letters: Erik Behrens, Franziska U Schwarzkopf, Joke F Lübbecke and Claus W Böning,

Click link to see video: Long-term spread of Cesium-137 released into the Pacific Ocean off Fukushima.

"A leak of 300 tons is about 80,000 gallons, but the Pacific Ocean is pretty large compared to that," said Dr. Arjun Makhijani, president of the Institute for Energy and Environmental Research. "So there's a big dilution effect."

While he tamped down fears that the water is an immediate concern for Americans, Makhijani added: "We still don't know how contaminated the water is, and some sampling of the U.S. West Coast waters would be useful, as well as making the sampling of some fish public."

For now, he said, the concern is mostly for locals in Fukushima — fishermen, residents and cleanup crews working on-site — particularly due to the recently discovered spike in the levels of strontium 90, a radioactive material that bio-concentrates in the bones of fish as well as algae.

Scientists last year first reported higher-than-expected concentrations of radiation found in fish caught off the coast of Japan.

Related: Hero who prevented explosions at Fukushima reactor dies of cancer

Makhijani has noted that the bioaccumulation effect of strontium 90 could be devastating for a pregnant mother who ingests aquatic foods or drinks that have been contaminated, as the child could be born with a weakened immune system.

"I definitely would recommend that the FDA and EPA increase their vigilance in terms of the monitoring of food," he said.

Joseph Mangano, executive director of the nonprofit Radiation and Public Health Project, said "a cocktail of more than 100 radioactive chemicals" from the Fukushima reactors presents hazards when the material is ingested into the body through the food chain or by breathing tainted air.

Potential health risks include birth defects and thyroid cancer, he said.

In March, the organization published a report indicating that the number of West Coast babies born with a condition called hypothyroidism — underactive thyroid glands — rose by 28 percent within nine months of the Fukushima disaster, compared with the previous year.

Mangano noted that the American Medical Association has already called for the testing of all fish sold in the U.S. for radiation contamination, but that the FDA has so far resisted.

"We've had such enormous releases already, we need to vigorously monitor how much radiation is in our environment and bodies, not just in Japan but in the U.S.," he said.

The Japanese government has vowed to take "firm measures" to stop the leaks from Fukushima and will consider building a multibillion-dollar containment wall of frozen ground to surround the reactor buildings. That project would be completed in July 2015.

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