Radiation found in domestic vegetables

08:18, April 07, 2011      

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Minute traces of radiation "not harmful to human health" from the crippled Japanese nuclear plant have been detected in vegetables planted on the Chinese mainland, the Ministry of Health said on Wednesday in an online statement.

A vendor sorts spinach at a vegetable market in Beijing, April 6, 2011. Sample inspections conducted on Tuesday found low levels of radioactive iodine in spinach planted in Beijing, Tianjin and Henan province. (Photo/Asianewsphoto)

It is the first report that home-grown food has been contaminated by radioactivity, largely Iodine-131, since the ministry ordered radiation tests on food and water at the end of March in 14 mainland regions including Beijing, Tianjin, and some costal provinces.

Sample inspections conducted on Tuesday found low levels of radioactive iodine in spinach planted in Beijing, Tianjin and Henan province -- about 1-3 becquerels per kilogram (Bq/kg), the statement said.

"The contamination level detected is too low to be harmful to public health," it said.

According to health experts, radioactive iodine can accumulate in humans once ingested in high concentrations and increases the risk of thyroid cancer. But it decays naturally within weeks.

Leafy vegetables grown in the open like spinach, lettuce and leek are among the first foods to be tainted by radioactive deposits.

Raw milk is also susceptible to radioactive contamination as livestock feed on grass.

Tests carried out in March showed spinach and milk taken from farms near Japan's stricken nuclear plant had exceeded government-set safety limits for radiation.

No cases of tainted water or milk have been reported in China but the ministry vowed to further strengthen monitoring.

Wang Zhongwen, a researcher at the China Institute of Atomic Energy's radiation safety department, told China Daily on Wednesday that currently China only had the means to conduct food radiation tests in a few regions.

The statement also said that recent rain in Beijing and Tianjin meant radioactive substances could have fallen on vegetables.

Chen Jicang, a vegetable dealer in Beijing, said on Wednesday that concerns are growing among consumers, businesses and governments across the world.

"We have yet to see any impact on our business from the radiation, but we will keep a close eye on how the issue develops," he said.

He added that most vegetables consumed in Beijing are produced locally, and he might switch to other varieties if spinach sales suffer.

Yang Guoshan, a researcher of radiation medical science at the Academy of Military Medical Sciences, said people could safely eat products that contain low levels of Iodine-131.

"The radiation level is so low that residents don't need to spend any extra effort on cleaning them," he said.

According to the World Trade Organization in 2006, Yang said, products with an iodine level up to 100Bq/kg are safe.

Gao Jie, a 52-year-old resident in Tianjin said she is deeply worried because spinach is a staple part of her family's diet.

"If spinach is radioactive, is there any possibility that other types of vegetables are safe?"

Trace levels of radioactive isotope cesium-137 and -134 were detected in the air in 21 provinces and regions on Wednesday, up from 17 on Tuesday, according to China's National Nuclear Emergency Coordination Committee.

Zhao Yinan contributed to this story.

Source: China Daily
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