Pacific Seafood is Safe to Eat, Radiation Fears Three Years after Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant in Japan are Overblown

Consumer fears, many of them passed along virally on the internet, that fish from the Pacific Ocean contain unhealthy amounts of radiation are still persistent more than three years after a tsunami swamped the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant in Japan.

Those concerns are overblown.

FishWise is continuing to follow the status of the radioactive plume of seawater from the power plant and its potential to contaminate Pacific seafood. Based on the best scientific information available, consuming Pacific seafood is still safe.

Among the agencies and groups testing the seafood are the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, which routinely tests for radionuclides – or radioactive contaminants – and monitors information and data from foreign governments and international organizations. In March 2014, the FDA released this update on its website:

“To date, FDA has no evidence that radionuclides from the Fukushima incident are present in the U.S. food supply at levels that would pose a public health concern. This is true for both FDA-regulated food products imported from Japan and U.S. domestic food products, including seafood caught off the coast of the United States. Consequently, FDA is not advising consumers to alter their consumption of specific foods imported from Japan or domestically produced foods, including seafood. …”

The FDA is continuing its monitoring, as is the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, which measures levels of radiation in the air and precipitation through its RadNet program.

Scientists at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute in Massachusetts are leading a volunteer radiation-monitoring project, called Our Radioactive Ocean, which said in a June 2014 statement:

“So far, none of the seawater samples taken from the Pacific Coast have contained any trace of radiation from Fukushima. They have contained the same levels of radiation that were evident in the Pacific Ocean before the Fukushima accident.”

A number of peer-reviewed studies also support our confidence that seafood from the Pacific is safe to eat.

Researchers involved in Kelp Watch 2014, a project that includes testing for radionuclide contamination of kelp forest ecosystems at multiple locations along the West coast are also confident that the radiation concentration found in kelp samples that will bioaccumulate in the food web that humans are part of will be so low as to pose no harm to human health.

Since the April 2011 disaster, a radioactive plume of contaminated seawater has been carried toward the West Coast of North America by ocean currents, but the Pacific is such a vast body of water that rapid dilution of the radioactive seawater means the concentration of radionuclides from Fukushima is expected to be only slightly above pre-accident levels, and far below naturally occurring radioactive elements in the ocean from environmental factors such as sunlight and weathering of rocks.

The takeaway from these and other findings for consumers of Hy-Vee’s Responsible Choice seafood is that Pacific seafood is safe to eat. The risks of Fukushima-derived radiation are miniscule when compared to other things that threaten public health – for example smoking, air pollution and obesity, to name a few.

This vigilant testing has had a benefit beyond providing consumers with the assurances about the safety of seafood: It’s allowed scientists to deepen their knowledge and understanding of the migratory patterns of tuna.

Read more on the FishWise blog.

Author: Kathleen Mullen-Ley

My name is Kathleen Mullen-Ley, and I am a project manager for FishWise. FishWise, a nonprofit sustainable seafood consultancy, has been working with Hy-Vee to research and recommend seafood product sourcing, develop and implement Hy-Vee's Responsible Choice Seafood materials and staff training, and analyze data to measure progress towards Hy-Vee's 2015 Commitment. I hold a master’s degree in marine biodiversity and conservation from Scripps Institution of Oceanography and a Bachelor of Arts in environmental studies from the University of California Santa Cruz. My graduate research project was an analysis of the World Trade Organization ruling on the U.S. dolphin-safe tuna label and its implications for future market-based marine conservation efforts. My experience analyzing fishery management issues and communicating marine science to diverse audiences combined with my respect for ocean life has made me well-prepared to take on the challenges of sustainable seafood.

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