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Does My Garden Glow?

Questions about the extent of Fukushima fallout linger.

(Editor's note: Nancy Burton is the Director of the Connecticut Coalition Against Millstone, a group which lobbies for the closure of the Millstone Nuclear Power Plant in Waterford, and is an anti-nuclear activist. She lives in Redding.)

If a nuclear disaster halfway around the world spews massive clouds of radioactive fallout but no one is monitoring it, did the disaster happen?

Does our government want us to pretend Fukushima didn’t happen?

Lusty leaves of spinach, mustard greens and purple kale are popping up in my winter garden, ready to be plucked and served at my dinner table.

But before I give them the taste test, I have a question: Does my garden glow?

On May 3, the Environmental Protection Administration announced suspension of its Fukushima radiation monitoring, 53 says after the first of multiple spectacular explosions at the nuclear site and a few days before radioactivity was detected in tea leaves growing south of Tokyo, more than 140 miles from Fukushima.  

Yet, the Fukushima disaster is ongoing. On May 12, Tokyo Electric Power Company said a “sustained drop in radiation levels” at Fukushima will not occur before July, according to a report by Bloomberg.

As of this writing, authorities fear a possible collapse of the Fukushima Reactor 4 and the entire site is still not under control.

As reports began coming over the Internet that spinach – not to mention milk and other food supplies – were banned from commerce in Fukushima Prefecture, and Tokyo mothers had Iodine-131 in their breastmilk, I pondered my winter garden.

I wondered whether harmful radiation from the nuclear disaster was settling on my soil in Redding. Even low levels of radiation are biologically harmful.

Fukushima has disappeared from mainstream news, but its long-lived fallout, including cesium-137 and strontium-90, is dispersing in the atmosphere and dropping to earth during rainfall.

If I believed President Obama, I would accept that “no harmful levels” of Fukushima fallout would land on American soil. But he made that announcement before strontium-89 was detected in milk in Hawaii and cesium-137 in milk in Montpelier, Vt. Medical science associates these long-lived radiosotopes are long-lived radioisotopes with bone cancer and other cancers.

Is my spinach a cancer-buster – or a cancer killer? And what of the milk of Katie the Goat, ?

Over the past few weeks, on assignment for Patch, I have tried to find an answer to these important questions. I dogged the Environmental Protection Agency and the Food & Drug Administration and the Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection for information.

What I found out led me to believe our government had a data-avoidance radiation monitoring program seemingly designed to know as little as possible about the impact of Fukushima fallout on Americans on their home turf.

EPA had only one ground-level air monitor in the state, located in Hartford, which consistently recorded elevated radioactivity.

Of the four rainwater samples taken in Hartford, three had elevated levels of Iodine-131. The norm is zero, according to DEP emails.

EPA tested one milk sample in Connecticut, but not for strontium-89 or strontium-90, even after EPA reported the presence of strontium-89 in milk produced in Hawaii. Sr-89 is a known carcinogen, more potent than strontium-90, and is especially dangerous for young children and infants in utero.

That’s about it for Fukushima radiation monitoring in Connecticut.

(And the food industry was leaving it to EPA and FDA to check the safety of domestically-produced food. After EPA found cesium-137 in milk produced in Vermont, I contacted Organic Cow, which distributes organic milk throughout the Northeast. The spokesperson said the company was not performing independent analysis for fallout. Dittto for CalOrganics, mega-producer of leafy greens in California’s fertile interior.)

No one seemed to be testing garden-grown vegetables in Connecticut. So I milked Katie the Goat, filled a jar with freshly fallen rainwater and harvested spinach and other greens from my garden and delivered the items to Congressman Jim Himes at his office in Stamford.

I asked him to arrange delivery of the Fairfield County-produced food to EPA for radiological analysis.

Unfortunately, EPA declined to accept the samples, according to Himes’ office, and they were discarded as building waste.

But I had split each sample into two parts, one for EPA and one for an independent lab, so the results could be compared. When I get the results, I’ll share them with readers of this column – and Congressman Himes and the EPA.

Talia May 21, 2011 at 02:43 AM
We are wondering this too, on the west coast. I've sent in soil and rainwater samples as I just don't know who to believe. I will share my results and am anxious to hear yours....meanwhile we as a community are buying a truckload of zeolite to use in our gardens...Talia www.organicgrace.com
Talia May 21, 2011 at 02:04 PM
Great article about protective measures you can take for your garden and your family... http://farmwars.info/?p=6062
Mary Ellen Marucci May 22, 2011 at 06:36 AM
A timely article, but really now, is this the first time you thought about checking the milk and veggies for radiation! I know you are familiar with Millstones, but living in Redding are upwind most of the time, but are you not downwind of Indian Point?
Talia May 23, 2011 at 01:51 AM
Please everyone sign this petition asking the EPA to continue monitoring. Please pass this along... http://www.thepetitionsite.com/774/petition-to-reinstate-ongoing-testing-for-radiation-from-fukushima/
Kim Roberson September 29, 2011 at 02:36 PM
A great article thank you for writing it Nancy. I am a former radioactive waste campaigner with Greenpeace USA who then became a nutritionist by profession. Back in late March I started a petition which helped to form a coalition (Fushishima Fallout Awareness Network) which in turn led to asking Senator Barbara Boxer (CA) for congressional hearings into the lack of food monitoring and transparency around this issue. http://www.change.org/petitions/urgent-fukushima-radioactive-fallout-food-safety-petition; we are also asking Sen. Dianne Feinstein and Boxer to oppose any cuts to the 2012 food inspection budget. We will be coming into our rainy season here on the west coast soon, and the food we grow here is shipped throughout the US..Fukushima's fallout is far reaching.

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