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Beach Radiation Not From Fukushima, Officials Say

Coastal beaches are safe to visit, state officials say.

Beach Radiation Not From Fukushima, Officials Say
By Christa Bigue/Patch Staff— The radiation reading on a recent  YouTube video showing high levels of radiation on Surfer’s Beach in El Granada using a Geiger Counter are Naturally Occurring Radioactive Materials (NORM) not attributable to Fukushima, according to a report from the California Department of Public Health (CDPH).

“Recent tests show that elevated levels of radiation at Half Moon Bay are due to naturally occurring materials and not radioactivity associated with the Fukushima incident,” said spokeswoman Wendy Hopkins of the California Department of Public Health. “There is no public health risk at California beaches due to radioactivity related to events at Fukushima.”

San Mateo County health officials also say that after testing the sand on Dec. 27 that higher levels of radiation on Half Moon Bay and Pacifica beaches appear to be from naturally occurring minerals, typically found in coastal geology, said Dean Peterson, Director for Environmental Health Services for San Mateo County.

“The radionuclides are in the NORM class of radioactive substances, not from Fukushima,” concurs Dan Sythe, CEO for International Medcom, which designs and manufactures Geiger Counters, a device used to detect radiation hazards in the home, workplace and environment.

Sythe’s  Inspector device is featured in the video, which led some to believe that radioactive material from the Fukushima Daiichi reactor meltdown in Japan was now hitting the West Coast. Sythe also specializes in radiation detection and public safety. He was so concerned about the video that he asked his friend Steve Weiss, an electrical engineer from the Coastside, to mail some Half Moon Bay sand to his Sebastopol home to “personally test a sample of sand from the beach, and I am convinced there is no link to Fukushima,” he said.

He found that the radioactive areas of the beach seem to be associated with dark sand below the high tide level.   

“The levels detected are about five to 10 times what you would normally expect to find on a beach," he said. "But if the sand were contaminated by radiation from Fukushima it would show Cesium-137 a product of nuclear fission which is reported to be the major health concern in Fukushima."

In March 2011 when a tsunami damaged the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant in Japan, radioactive isotopes were also released into the air and were absorbed by the ocean when they rained down upon it, according to a report on  Deep Sea News, a publication highly regarded for directly communicating science to the public. These two pathways introduced mostly Iodine-131, Cesium-137, and Cesium-134, but also some Tellurium, Uranium and Strontium to the area surrounding the power plant. 

What Sythe found on Surfer's Beach was not this. He got radium and thorium, which are naturally occurring radioactive elements, he said. The radiation level is elevated, but roughly equivalent to some granite counter top material from Brazil. He documented his findings in a blog post on the Geiger Counter Bulletin  here.

Whether this material is naturally occurring at this beach or not remains a question, said Sythe. “There are reports that a pipeline was once at this location and oil pipelines can collect heavy radioactive minerals.”

He believes the beach is safe but would err on the side of caution with young children and babies "to make sure they don't inhale or eat the sand," said Sythe, who describes himself as conservative when it comes to dealing with controversial issues regarding radiation health and safety and prefers a more "precautionary approach," he said.

The volume of water in the Pacific Ocean has a significant diluting effect on radionuclides that are present and it is not anticipated that the concentration will increase in the waters off of the West Coast, according to California Department of Public Health Officials.

Still, Sythe hopes the state will do further testing to determine the origin and full nature of the hot spots on the beach. “But we are confident that it is not related to Fukushima, based on the spectral signature,” he said.

Since the video was published on YouTube on Dec. 24, 2013, the state and county have sent teams to the beach for a survey. According to the Cal Office of Emergency Services, the California Department of Public Health Radiologic Health Branch did testing last week as did the San Mateo County Health/Environmental office.

On Dec. 27 a county inspector with a Geiger counter using GPS coordinates in El Granada as provided by the CA Office of Emergency Services reported that at the high tide mark at Surfer's Beach, their meter indicated a level of 100 micro REM's, which is three to four times higher than background for the area, said Peterson.

“This level is not a public health concern,” he said. “With respect to levels of radiation, it is safe to visit any of our coastal beaches.”

Still, Peterson forwarded the issue to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and state Department of Public Health to further analyze the radioactivity.

“Because the level was higher, it is protocol for us to contact state and federal agencies for further investigation,” he said.

CDPH has collected and will be analyzing sand samples from Half Moon Bay. Results of the analysis will be released as soon as the analysis is completed possibly sometime this week, according to Hopkin.

The agency has been in contact with the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) and they are monitoring the situation with the nuclear reactors in Japan, said Hopkin. The FDA as well as the private entity Woods-Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) have monitored fish from the Pacific and while minute levels of Cesium were found in blue fin tuna most recent tests show even those small levels are declining.

“There’s an incredible amount of disinformation going on these days about Fukushima,” said Sythe. “Without downplaying the danger and difficulties, it is important to note that some people are exaggerating the situation at Fukushima, for unknown reasons, in very dramatic ways."

Other recommended sources on the issue include:

•  Radiation on California Beaches

•  Is the sea floor littered with dead animals due to radiation? No.    

•  Three reasons why Fukushima radiation has nothing to do with starfish wasting syndrome  

•  True facts about Ocean Radiation and the Fukushima Disaster

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