Spinach sales slow after reports of contamination

08:26, April 08, 2011      

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Wen Hongbing, a man living in downtown Beijing, decided against buying spinach at a food market since trace amounts of radioactive materials have been found on the vegetable in China's capital city.

"I would rather buy some radishes to make dumplings," Wen said.

He learned from the news early Thursday morning that extremely small amounts of radioactive isotope iodine-131 had been found on the surface of spinach plants in Beijing, nearby Tianjin and central China's Henan province.

The results were based on a radiation check conducted Tuesday. However, the amount is only one thousandth to three thousandths the legal limit stipulated by China's national radiation safety standards, according to China's National Nuclear Emergency Coordination Committee on Wednesday.

Still, Wen said that he would stop eating spinach. "I never expected to suffer from nuclear radiation at my dining table," he said.

A netizen named "blue rainbow" wrote on her microblog at Sina.com that she would seriously think about how to handle the spinach stored at her home.

This was the first time China has found radioactive materials in food after "extremely low levels" of radioactive iodine-131 were detected in the air over all of the country's 31 provincial-level regions.

Trace levels, even lower than those of iodine-131, of radioactive isotope cesium-137 and -134 were also detected in the air of 21 of the Chinese mainland's 31 provincial-level regions on Wednesday.

These levels pose no threat to public health or to the environment in China, and no protective measures need to be taken against contamination from these materials, the authorities said.

The materials are believed to have traveled by air to China from the quake-damaged Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant in Japan.

It is believed that recent rains helped bring the radioactive iodine from the air to the ground, bringing radioactive materials onto the surface of the spinach.

Therefore many citizens said they will either temporarily limit purchasing or altogether stop purchasing vegetables grown outside.

The manager of a supermarket in Tianjin told Xinhua under condition of anonymity that spinach sales have experienced noticeable decline.

Even in places far from Beijing and Tianjin, the public has showed concerns over the possible spread of vegetable contamination.

Qi Sitang, a retired man living in northwest China's Gansu Province, decided not to eat spinach and other similar, large-leaved vegetables for the time being.

Rational call

After the vegetables were found to have radioactive contamination, related authorities came out immediately to clarify that the current trace amounts of radioactive materials in food pose no threat to public health.

"There is no need to take protective measures against the contamination," the Ministry of Health (MOH) said in a statement.

According to the MOH, it has been proven that washing the spinach with water can effectively remove radioactive materials.

According to the monitoring results, radioactive iodine-131 contained in the spinach samples in the three regions was approximately 1 to 3 bq/kg.

Su Xu, a research fellow at the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention, said eating over 2,000 kg of the contaminated spinach would amount to the radiation exposure of having a chest X-ray.

"There is no need to panic," Su said.

Most members of the public have felt relieved after the announcement of the scientific information.

According to Thursday's Beijing Evening News, a local newspaper, the price of spinach did not see sharp fluctuation at suburban Beijing's Xinfadi Market, northern China's largest agricultural produce distribution center.

But concerns among the public may last for some time as the nuclear crisis persists.

Source: Xinhua
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