HEALTH

Japan's Radiation Reaches California Shores - But Levels Pose No Health Threat, Source Says

  • An Environmental Protection Agency RadNet (radiation network) monitor is shown on the roof of the Bay Area Air Quality Management building in San Francisco, Wednesday, March 16, 2011. Federal environmental regulators say they are adding more radiation monitors in the western United States and Pacific territories as concerns rise over exposure from damaged nuclear plants in Japan. (AP Photo)

    An Environmental Protection Agency RadNet (radiation network) monitor is shown on the roof of the Bay Area Air Quality Management building in San Francisco, Wednesday, March 16, 2011. Federal environmental regulators say they are adding more radiation monitors in the western United States and Pacific territories as concerns rise over exposure from damaged nuclear plants in Japan. (AP Photo)  (AP2011)

  • An Environmental Protection Agency RadNet (radiation network) monitor is shown on the roof of the Bay Area Air Quality Management building in San Francisco, Wednesday, March 16, 2011. Federal environmental regulators say they are adding more radiation monitors in the western United States and Pacific territories as concerns rise over exposure from damaged nuclear plants in Japan. (AP Photo)

    An Environmental Protection Agency RadNet (radiation network) monitor is shown on the roof of the Bay Area Air Quality Management building in San Francisco, Wednesday, March 16, 2011. Federal environmental regulators say they are adding more radiation monitors in the western United States and Pacific territories as concerns rise over exposure from damaged nuclear plants in Japan. (AP Photo)  (AP2011)

Japan’s nuclear fallout reached the shores of Southern California on Friday, but the readings pose no health concerns, a diplomat told AP.

The levels are “about a billion times beneath levels that would be health threatening," the diplomat, who has access to U.N. radiation tracking, said after reading from one of its California-based measuring stations. He asked for anonymity Friday because the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty Organization does not make its data public.

That announcement comes a day after California officials spent the day trying to alleviate rising health concerns over how Japan’s radioactive disaster would affect the U.S. About 1,000 worried Californians have been flooding a state hotline wondering if their lives were in danger.

"Radiation is one of those words that get everybody scared, like 'plague,'" said Dr. Jonathan Fielding, director of public health for Los Angeles County. "But we're 5,000 miles away."

Officials said particles wafting to the U.S. coast would be so diluted that it would not pose any health risk. Wind, rain and salt spray will help clean the air over the vast ocean between Japan and the United States.

Nuclear experts say the main elements released are radioactive cesium and iodine. They can combine with the salt in sea water to become cesium chloride and sodium iodide, which are common and abundant elements and would readily dilute in the wide expanse of the Pacific, according to Steven Reese, director of the Radiation Center at Oregon State.

"It is certainly not a threat in terms of human health" added William H. Miller, a professor of nuclear engineering at the University of Missouri.

Earlier this week, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency deployed extra radiation detectors throughout the country to allay public concerns. On Thursday, President Barack Obama said "harmful levels" of radiation from the damaged Japanese nuclear plant are not expected to reach the U.S.

The radiation stations will send real time data via satellite to EPA officials, who will make the data available to the public online. The monitors also contain two types of air filters that detect any radioactive particles and are mailed to EPA's data center in Alabama.

That information, as well as samples that numerous federal agencies are collecting on the ground and in the air in Japan, also will be sent to the Department of Energy's atmospheric radioactivity monitoring center in California, where teams are creating sophisticated computer models to predict how radioactive releases at Fukushima could spread into the atmosphere.

Inside Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory near San Francisco, scientists, engineers, and meteorological experts were analyzing those charts and maps to help policymakers predict where radioactive isotopes could travel.

"The models show what happens if the situation gets worse, if the winds change, or if it rains to predict what could happen," National Nuclear Security Administration spokesman Damien LaVera said. "The Nuclear Regulatory Commission has said they see no radiation at harmful levels reaching the United States, and we're not seeing anything that is inconsistent with that."

In the event the situation escalates, the California Emergency Management Agency would coordinate emergency response efforts with state public health officials and local officials.

"Worst-case scenario, there is no threat to public health in California," said the agency's acting secretary Mike Dayton.

The California Department of Public Health, which set up the hotline, also has its own network of 8 monitors sampling the air, water, and soil for harmful substances, including radiation, said agency spokesman Ron Owens.

Based on reporting by The Associated Press.

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