Very low levels of radiation turned up in a sample of milk from the West Coast state of Washington, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) said on Wednesday.
However, the federal officials assured consumers not to worry. The EPA already monitors radiation in those potential exposure routes through an existing network of monitoring stations across the country.
The FDA officials said such findings were to be expected in the coming days because of the nuclear crisis in Japan, and the levels were expected to drop relatively quickly.
Results from a March 25 milk screening sample taken from Spokane, Washington, showed levels of radioactive Iodine-131 that were still 5,000 times below levels of concern set by the FDA, including levels set for infants and children.
The I-131 isotope has a very short half-life of about eight days, the EPA officials said, so the level detected in milk and milk products is expected to drop relatively quickly.
“Radiation is all around us in our daily lives, and these findings are a miniscule amount compared to what people experience every day,” said Patricia Hansen, senior scientist at the FDA.
“A person would be exposed to low levels of radiation on a round-trip cross-country flight, watching television, and even from construction materials.”
The EPA officials added it was increasing the level of nationwide monitoring of milk, precipitation and drinking water. Spokane, a city of 208,000, is more than 300 miles (480 kilometers) east of the Pacific coast.
Kim Papich, spokeswoman for the Spokane Regional Health District, said the agency was aware of the EPA report and preparing to issue a statement to residents. “This is not a major health concern,” he said.
At least 15 U.S. states have reported radioisotopes from Japan’s crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant in air or water or both. No states have recommended that residents take potassium iodide, a salt that protects the thyroid gland from radioactive iodine.
Iodine-131 has been found in eastern states from Florida to Massachusetts as well as in western states like Oregon, Colorado, and California, according to sensors and officials in those states. But none of the levels poses a risk to public health, they said.
Japan’s Fukushima nuclear power plant began leaking radiation after it was damaged by a devastating earthquake and tsunami this month (March 11).
The United States had already halted imports of dairy products and produce from the affected area of Japan. Other foods imported from Japan, including seafood, were still being sold to the public but screened first for radiation.