California officials say radiation “plume” from Japan won’t increase state’s levels above normal

By Alison Hawkes

California health and emergency officials said a “plume” of radiation coming from the Japanese nuclear crisis that’s expected to hit the West Coast as early as tomorrow will bring radiation levels to no higher than normal background levels.

The officials from the California Department of Public Health and the California Emergency Management Agency said the state is simply too far away from Japan to create any harmful affects, even in a “worst case scenario.”  Rain over the Pacific Ocean will take out some of the radiation, while the so-called “plume” will disperse much like smoke into an area so wide it’s unlikely to cause a danger, they said.

“The background level could go up hundreds of times and not go to a level harmful to human health,” said Jonathan Fielding, director of the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health “I guard against overly, slavishly looking at that to be an indicator of concern.”

The quickly arranged press conference on Thursday came after a United Nations forecast that predicted the possible movement of a radioactive plume hitting the West Coast on late Friday, after first touching the Aleutian Islands on Thursday. The forecast stated that the plume would be diluted and would have extremely minor health consequences in the United States, even if monitors were able to detect it.

Public anxiety in California has become so pitched that California officials repeatedly stressed that people should not take potassium iodide as protection, as it can have toxic impacts far worse than the anticipated effects of a small increase in radiation.

“We’re concerned people will suffer the effect of iodide without seeing any benefit,” said Howard Backer, the interim director of the California Department of Public Health. “Rather than buying potassium iodide, I would encourage everyone to buy three to five days of food and water so when we have our earthquake you can be prepared to be self-sufficient.”

The officials also addressed news reports that passengers arriving from Tokyo into Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport had set off radiation detectors. They said radiation detector machines are extremely sensitive and will detect any significant increase in radiation, but that doesn’t mean human health is in danger.

So far, they said that radiation monitors have detected no increase in radiation in California. The state maintains eight monitors (two in Eureka, and one in Richmond, Livermore, Avila Beach, San Luis Obispo, Los Angeles, and San Diego), while the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency maintains 124 monitors across the country in the RadNet system, including ones in San Francisco, San Jose, and Sacramento.

State officials noted that predicting the spread of radiation from Japan, which is 5,000 miles away, is difficult.

“There’s not a leading front that we can track here and we don’t have monitors every 100 miles across the Pacific,” Backer said. “It totally depends on the wind patterns if we see it on the West Coast. Likely it’s first to be detected in Alaska because of the way prevailing air patterns go.”

Backer also said he would “guarantee the public will know if [radiation is] detected.”

“Our challenge is going to be making people know that detecting is not a sign of public health,” he said. “We want to keep our environment clean and no one’s happy about what’s happening in Japan, but this radiation is going to happen for the most part in the water and in the air it’s not going to rise to significant levels.”

Backer also said that seafood imports would also not be impacted because of dispersal patterns and the size of the ocean, and that divers, surfers, and swimmers were not at risk.

The officials said they are relying on daily calls with the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission to understand the impacts of worst-case scenarios in Japan’s rapidly deteriorating nuclear crisis.

The state is maintaining a California hotline to answer the public’s questions about radiation. It’s open Monday through Friday, 8am-5pm: 916-341-3947

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14 Responses to California officials say radiation “plume” from Japan won’t increase state’s levels above normal

  1. anna on 03/17/2011 at 3:46 pm

    i don’t belive you

  2. Anna on 03/17/2011 at 9:15 pm

    I might take this story a little more seriously if you spelled the towns names ALL correctly. It is San LUIS Obispo. Growing up in the area and watching this on the news is more terrifying than anything I have ever seen, at least get the cities names ALL correct for me to believe this puff of smoke you are trying to feed into the public’s ears.

    • Alison Hawkes on 03/18/2011 at 7:59 am

      Hi Anna,
      Thanks for the spelling correction. We rely on readers like you to help us get things straight when we’re writing on a tight deadline. Thanks!

    • Antonio Malcolm on 03/18/2011 at 8:26 am

      Please get a life. A typo does not negate an entire story, and it’s not as if there were typos throughout the story. People are human, miss keyboard strokes, etc. All that was written here otherwise was quoted and presented appropriately and without much in the way of personal spin or agenda, and that should be considered a good thing. Whether or not those being quoted are being honest or not is another issue. Quit being such a pointless hardass.

    • jack work on 03/18/2011 at 12:37 pm

      Anna, we might take your comment a little more seriously if you focused on something more important than spelling.

  3. David K on 03/18/2011 at 6:37 am

    They always hide crap like this and years later when your eyes will glow in the night and they will say Oh! ya it was higher than we anticipated. They “ALWAYS LIE” about stuff like this.

  4. Anna on 03/18/2011 at 11:07 am

    Well if it isn’t such a big deal then why all the stories on this. Really? If it a non issue then don’t say anything about it. It might not help that I grew up with a conspiracy theorist for a dad, but every time I see stories saying oh well this is going to happen, BUT it’s not going to have any impact whatsoever on anyone…why is it even addressed?

    • Debbie on 04/09/2011 at 9:52 pm

      Because frightened people are much easier to control. I haven’t read enough peer reviewed research yet and will do that now. Peace all…Debbie PS Stress is likely to cause more biochemical problems…My honest wish is that we all find the stuff that gives us some relief from the fear. Exercise, yoga and good community help me. I hope something gives every reader of this note a more exhale. What helps you relax when you can’t be in control of the outcome? Surrender I guess…do the good you can…and love who you can while you can is what I’m doin.

  5. Alison on 03/18/2011 at 11:12 am

    Well, people are concerned about radiation and it’s important to get officials on the record with their statements. We in the public need to understand what’s going on, since it is potentially a serious issue. I find many of the official statements unsatisfying in their lack of detail.

  6. jack work on 03/18/2011 at 12:30 pm

    Will the milk and cheese from my small dairy be safe? I’m near Red Bluff, Ca.

  7. Dorothy Seabourn on 03/18/2011 at 6:01 pm

    Nuclear is NOT safe! Shut them all down. We are much better off to use wind water and solar. They are safe and less expensive. Lets not destroy our planet. If you don’t have your health what do you need profit for. Save our children from stupid greedy dangerous mistakes that have been made by humans in charge. Let us vote now. This should be everyones decision. Not just a stupid few in charge with profit as priorities. I vote no on nukes.


  8. sunplantmedicine on 03/19/2011 at 12:58 am

    I’m an Organic Farmer, also near Red Bluff, CA. Will my produce be affected? I also don’t believe nearly all government officials nor corporate spokespersons. And we have the potassium iodide, baking soda, NAC, etc. – just in case.

  9. FS on 03/19/2011 at 10:40 am

    Why is always predicted to be a non-event, only later to actually have been an event? Case in point, on Thursday the BErkeley Scientists criticized the UN for overreacting and saying that radiation would reach California on Friday. Lo and behold, it’s Saturday, and everyone acknowledges the radiation was here on Friday after all.

  10. Eric Brooks on 03/19/2011 at 12:01 pm

    Public Health & CEMA Claims Absurd!

    The claims of the California Department of Public Health and the California Emergency Management Agency that California faces no increased health risk due to the radiation plumes are absolutely absurd.

    1) In 2005 the National Academy of Sciences determined that there is no safe level of exposure to radiation, and that danger to health increases with every new exposure; so -any- added radioactive particulate in California increases health dangers. For the NAS report see

    2) One of the substances released in the Japan accident, plutonium, is the most dangerous substance known to human kind. One pound of plutonium, if divided up into 7 billion tiny pieces, would still leave each tiny piece hazardous enough to give every human being on earth cancer. All it takes is one particulate of plutonium to cause cancer, and some of the Japan disaster’s plutonium will indeed reach the United States.

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