March 31st, 2011

Radioactive Rain

Mark Fraser is the host and executive producer of "Nature Walks with Mark Fraser"

There are two things that I think should not be used in the same sentence, “radioactive” and “rain”.  It is already serious enough to live with the impacts of “Acid Rain” on our watersheds thanks in large part to the use of Coal. There was a time when news like “Radioactive Rain” would have sent people into a serious frenzy. Officials saying “nothing to worry about” would have a very bad day as the concerned public would be out making statements of protest showing real and honest concern for the health of our environment and families. My, the things we can get used to hearing about are truly surprising. Over the years subjects that were once cause for real concern and even uproar seem to be old hat these days. Take “climate change” I remember not long ago when that was a serious subject, yet these days when I speak with people about it, I often hear people say they heard it was not an issue or even a political hoax. Even more scary; is when people say “I don’t like snow anyway”. Of course there are so many things that could be said about all of that but I will sum it up as that it leaves me sort of baffled. When exactly did that happen? How did we get so desensitized to the things going on around us?

I suppose that is why I was not very surprised seeing a lack of uproar at the local weather report. I was listening to a meteorologist the other day in the Boston area talking about “radioactive rain”. He proclaimed that it was no big deal and that it was less then getting an X-Ray exam. My first impression was “so is this person a physicist and also a PHD who studied the impact of radiation on human health over time?” If not, respectfully we all need to ask our own questions, and I feel we should be concerned for the potential “long term” impacts as the ecosystems around us are now absorbing radiation from this disaster.

You see being a conservationist I pay close attention to pollutions impacting on the natural world. Things like lead, mercury and plastics have an impact that has a very unique characteristic. It’s called “bio-magnification”. Basically that term describes how pollutants magnify in the food web. One example is when something consumes something else as prey, when the prey has been contaminated. The predator eats many of the prey, and therefore has a far greater amount of exposure to the pollutant. This works its way right up the food chain and includes you and I by the way. There are real examples of that all over nature. Takes Loons, they are contaminated by lead and mercury pollutants from things like “lead sinkers” used by fisherman that for some reason are still sold in stores to this day (crazy, I know).   Since Loons eat many fish that are contaminated and lead stays in their bodies a very long time, it then magnifies as more and more lead is ingested. This problem is not only very real but actually threatens their very survival. This same bio-magnifications impact Eagles as well.

Image from USGS

In fact, to some degree it can impact nearly everything. Salmon, considered a super healthy food for humans because of Omega3 fatty acids is also a fish that comes with a warning. If you eat Salmon too often then you can increase your own exposure to mercury (Hg) and so on. Ok so now that we understand “bio-magnification” lets talk about the radioactive rain that keeps popping up on the news. It doesn’t require a physicist to explain how the radioactive particles traveled around the world on the wind and are now washing down in the form of rain. There are lots of warm and fuzzy reports about it stating that “you can get more radiation from flying or from an XRAY”.  The problem is that as this crisis at the Fukushima plant is ongoing. It continues day after day while TEPCO (Tokyo Electric Power Company) tries to battle this horrific environmental disaster but each day those same radioactive particles continue to dust across entire the ecosystem. They concentrate in rain and on to our crops. That would include grass, eaten by milking cows that we get our milk from by the way. So “biomagnification” can occur right in our own home.  As always there are lots of would be experts speaking about how everything is fine and that there is nothing to worry about. It reminds me of the BP Oil spill how for a while the news reports about the oil inteh Gulf said “it just evaporated” while local residents continued to try and report the truth about what they actually see on the site- and they still do by the way.  Now in this case, this catastrophe is no doubt causing serious ecological impact. Radioactive water has actually run into the ocean. What sort of impact does that have on sea life and how long will it last? I do not think anyone really knows.  One thing is for sure. We are seeing the truth about our choices for energy. Nuclear, Oil, Coal, Natural Gas all come with “very serious” ecological impact often overlooked because those who support it are backed by billions of dollars of profit (also called lobbyist) while those who fight to protect the health of the world are often not funded at all. I believe we need to pay “very” close attention to what is going on in the world around us. Our insatiable appetite for more and more power needs to employ far more wisdom with each of the steps we take.

Like DDT, Mercury, Lead and other environmental pollutants, when “our” habitat has been contaminated the ramifications can be vast, especially when considered over time.  Even when readings start off very low, we need to carefully monitor the complex web of ecological relationships now infused with the offending pollutant. Considering the long term potential health impacts of even small amounts of radiation, I wonder if this Nuclear event combined with the massive BP Oil spill, will finally allow us to take a far more serious look at our choices going forward. Hopefully in time, we can use these tragedies as a catalysis to make better choices about the real use of Geo Thermal and renewable energy sources in the future. In time I’m sure we can learn to make the right decisions, I hope so because as I type this article and look out my window, I see that it’s raining…

Mark Fraser




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