Those leafy greens from California filling America’s salad bowls are safe to eat, so stop worrying about this radiation from Japan business–OK?


That pretty much says it. At the Irvine-based Western Growers and Produce Marketing Association, spokeswoman Wendy Fink-Weber says there is “no threat” to California produce from radiation in Japan.

She can point to the California Department of Public Health, with monitors in the fields, and EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson, who toured the Golden State this week, as sources for the clean bill of health.

As the nation’s largest farm state, measured by about $35 billion in cash receipts for its 400 commodities, California has a lot at stake. The state produces nearly half of U.S.-grown fruits, nuts and vegetables. 

“Our extensive network of radiation monitors has detected no levels of concern for Californians or anyone on the West Coast, and my visit to California reflects my personal confidence in the safety of the air and EPA’s monitoring of the situation,” Jackson said in a guest editorial for the Fresno Bee newspaper.

That means all those leafy greens that grow in the Salinas Valley and at other locations in California are safe.  

All that monitoring on the West Coast does show minuscule levels of radiation that is attributed to releases from the damaged Japanese nuclear reactors, but far, far below any levels that would be a health concern.

California milk and grasslands are getting regular monitoring.

Mid-week, Gov. Jerry Brown promised the state will tell the public “if any precautions become necessary.”  He said at this point there just is no “cause for alarm.”  

At the same time, the California Department of Public Health issued its own list of “frequently asked questions.”  We include them here:

Q.  Is a plume of radiation coming to California?

A.  At present, all data from state and federal sources show that harmful radiation won’t reach California. CDPH is monitoring the situation, working closely with our federal, state and local partners. 

Q. How much radiation will reach California?  

A. No harmful radiation. Distance, time, and weather is in our favor. Japan is 5,000 miles from California. Radiation levels lessen with distance and we don’t expect much above the amounts we see everyday. Precipitation removes radiation from the atmosphere.

Q. What’s the everyday level of radiation we receive? 

A. The typical North American exposure from natural background radiation is 2.0 millirem per day. A chest x-ray would expose an individual to 10 millirems. Radiation from Japan is expected to be thousands of times less than daily background radiation from natural and man-made sources–like the sun, air, soil, medical imaging, and life-saving therapies.  

Q. What’s a millirem? 

A. A millirem is a dose of ionizing radiation. The average American is exposed to approximately 620 millirems of radiation each year from natural and medical sources.  

Q. Is there a danger of radiation from the Japanese nuclear incident making it to the United States?

A. Given the thousands of miles between the two countries, Hawaii, Alaska, the U.S. Territories and the U.S., the West Coast is not expected to experience any harmful levels of radioactivity. In response to nuclear emergencies, CDPH works with state and federal agencies to monitor radioactive releases and predict their paths.  

Q. What is the state and federal government doing to monitor radiation?

A. CDPH Radiologic Health Branch maintains eight air monitoring stations throughout California. They are located in Eureka (2 units), Richmond, Livermore, Avila Beach, San Luis Obispo, Los Angeles and San Diego. CDPH has increased surveillance from once a week to every 48 hours. The United States Environmental Protection Agency operates a network of air monitors in California and has recently enhanced its capability in response to the Japan nuclear crisis (U.S. EPA has real time monitoring capability).  

Q. Does California have a plan in place to respond to a radiological emergency?

A. CDPH has a plan for response to radiological emergencies, called the Nuclear Emergency Response Plan. This plan is exercised regularly with local and federal partners in the communities around our nuclear power plants.

Q. Does California stockpile supplies for such an emergency?

A. California does stockpile emergency supplies, including potassium iodide (KI) tablets. Potassium iodide tablets are not recommended at this time, and can cause significant side effects in people with allergies to iodine, shellfish or who have thyroid problems. Potassium iodide tablets should not be taken unless directed by authorities.  

Q. Why are potassium iodide tablets used during emergencies involving radiation exposure? 

A. Potassium iodide (KI) tablets may be recommended to individuals who are at risk for radiation exposure or have been exposed to excessive radiation to block the body’s absorption of radioactive iodine. Using KI when inappropriate could have rare but serious side effects such as abnormal heart rhythms, nausea, vomiting, electrolyte abnormalities and bleeding.  

Q. Should I be taking potassium iodide to protect myself? 

 A. No. Potassium iodide (KI) tablets are not recommended at this time, and can present a danger to people with allergies to iodine, shellfish or who have thyroid problems.  


Q. Should I purchase potassium iodide as a precaution? 

A. No. KI is only appropriate within close proximity to a nuclear event. Using KI when inappropriate could have potential serious side effects such as abnormal heart rhythms, nausea, vomiting, electrolyte abnormalities and bleeding.

Q. Are there any protective measures I should currently take?

A. The best thing anyone can do is to stay informed. CDPH and other state and federal partners are monitoring the situation. If circumstances change, officials will alert the public to appropriate precautionary procedures. But, again, at this time, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission reports Japan’s nuclear emergency presents no danger to California.   

While California is not at risk of significant radiation from Japan, we are at risk of major earthquakes. People who live in earthquake prone regions should stock emergency supplies of food, water, and other emergency supplies to be self-sufficient for at least 3-5 days.