State Department of Health officials said Saturday that radiation in Washington remains at normal levels, and that isn’t expected to change following damage to a nuclear reactor in Japan that was triggered by a devastating earthquake.
Officials were on hand Saturday in Tumwater to explain how the department’s environmental monitoring station there works. Several are used throughout the state; one of them is atop a Department of Health building in Tumwater.
The others are in Seattle, Richland and Spokane. They all are part of a national network of sampling stations. The state Department of Health has used them for years, collecting rainwater and air samples that are sent to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, said John Erickson, special assistant to the secretary of health and director of public health preparedness. At the Tumwater site, rainwater is shipped to the EPA twice a week, and air-sample results are continually sent to the EPA via the Internet, he said.
“We don’t expect any increases, and we don’t expect an impact here,” Erickson said about radiation levels in Washington. He said there is always a certain amount of low-level radiation in the atmosphere, either generated by cosmic rays or radon.
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Even following the explosion at Chernobyl, Ukraine, in 1986, which is considered the world’s worst nuclear power plant disaster, Washington’s radiation levels barely rose, Erickson said.
Although televised images from Japan show that one of the reactor buildings in northern Japan has collapsed following an explosion, the reactor remains contained, said Terry Frazee, director of the Office of Radiation Protection. Washington also is thousands of miles from Japan, and any radiation released would be diluted by wind and rain, Frazee said. Once a reactor has been shut down, radiation decays rapidly, said Mike Brennan, a radiation health physicist.
Radiation levels are recorded in pico curies per cubic meter, Brennan said. In the Olympia area over the past few weeks, the Tumwater site has recorded pico curies per cubic meter of 0.01 to 0.015, he said.
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