Filling in the Gaps on Fukushima Radiation and Its Effects on Fish
An Internet search turns up an astounding number of pages about radiation from Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant meltdown that followed an earthquake and tsunami in March 2011. But it’s difficult to find credible information.
One reason is that government monitoring of radiation and its effects on fish stocks appears to be limited. According to the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, “No U.S. government or international agency is monitoring the spread of low levels of radiation from Fukushima along the West Coast of North America and around the Hawaiian Islands.”
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s most recent food testing, which includes seafood, appears to be from June 2012. Its website states, “FDA has no evidence that radionuclides from the Fukushima incident are present in the U.S. food supply at levels that would pose a public health concern. This is true for both FDA-regulated food products imported from Japan and U.S. domestic food products, including seafood caught off the coast of the United States.”
The non-profit Canadian Highly Migratory Species Foundation has been monitoring Pacific troll-caught albacore tuna off the B.C. coast. Its 2013 sampling found “no residues detected at the lowest detection limits achievable.” The B.C. Centre for Disease Control website assures us we have little cause for concern about radiation from Japan in our food and environment. Websites for Health Canada and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency yield scant information.
But the disaster isn’t over. Despite the Japanese government’s claim that everything is under control, concerns have been raised about the delicate process of removing more than 1,500 nuclear fuel rod sets, each containing 60 to 80 fuel rods with a total of about 400 tonnes of uranium, from Reactor 4 to a safer location, which is expected to take a year. Some, including me, have speculated another major earthquake could spark a new disaster. And Reactors 1, 2 and 3 still have tonnes of molten radioactive fuel that must be cooled with a constant flow of water.
A radioactive plume is expected to reach the West Coast sometime this year, but experts say it will be diluted by currents off Japan’s east coast and, according to the Live Science website, “the majority of the cesium-137 will remain in the North Pacific gyre—a region of ocean that circulates slowly clockwise and has trapped debris in its center to form the ‘Great Pacific Garbage Patch’—and continue to be diluted for approximately a decade following the initial Fukushima release in 2011.”
With the lack of data from government, the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution is asking the public for help. In January, Ken Buesseler, senior scientist and director of the Center for Marine and Environmental Radioactivity at the U.S.-based non-profit, launched a fundraising campaign and citizen science website to collect and analyze seawater along North America’s West Coast.
“Whether you agree with predictions that levels of radiation along the Pacific Coast of North America will be too low to be of human health concern or to impact fisheries and marine life, we can all agree that radiation should be monitored, and we are asking for your help to make that happen,” Buesseler said in a news release.
Participants can help fund and propose new sites for seawater sampling, and collect seawater to ship to the lab for analysis. The David Suzuki Foundation is the point group for two sampling sites, on Haida Gwaii and at Bamfield on the west coast of Vancouver Island. Data will be published at How Radioactive Is Our Ocean?, and will include an evolving map showing cesium concentrations with links to information about radioactivity in the ocean and what the levels mean.
The oceans contain naturally occurring radioactive isotopes and radiation from 1960s nuclear testing. Buesseler doesn’t think levels in the ocean or seafood will become dangerously high because of the Fukushima disaster, but he stresses the importance of monitoring.
The Fukushima disaster was a wake-up call for the potential dangers of nuclear power plants, especially in unstable areas. North Americans may have little cause for concern for now, but without good scientific information to determine whether or not it is affecting our food and environment we can’t know for sure. The Woods Hole initiative is a good start.
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Jean-Marc Neveu and Olivier Civil never expected to find themselves battling against disposable mask pollution.
When they founded their recycling start-up Plaxtil in 2017, it was textile waste they set their sights on. The project developed a process that turned fabrics into a new recyclable material they describe as "ecological plastic."
Mounting Piles of Waste<p>It is not only the streets of Chatellerault where pandemic pollution is piling-up, but also the world's beaches and oceans. Once there, they can take up to 450 years to degrade and disappear.</p><p>Esther Röling, co-organizer of the annual Adventure Clean Up Challenge held on Hong Kong Island, has seen this waste firsthand. In October the sports challenge pitted teams against one another in a competition to remove trash from 13 hard-to-reach coastal areas around the city.</p><p>They find tons of both disposable and reusable masks, said Röling. "You wonder how it ended up there. Was it just thrown on the ground? Or was it in a garbage bag that broke open?"</p><p>Almost 10,000 kilometers away in Antibes on the sunny French Riviera, it's a similar picture. For the past few months, divers and clean-up volunteers working with an ocean clean-up non-profit called Operation Mer Propre have been collecting an increasing number of masks found on land and in the sea.</p><p>"Since the beginning of the lockdown when we started to count, we've reached 800, 900, [and now in total] 1000 masks," said co-founder Joko Peltier. </p><p>According to <a href="https://unctad.org/news/growing-plastic-pollution-wake-covid-19-how-trade-policy-can-help" target="_blank">UN estimates</a>, up to 75% of all coronavirus-related plastic could end up as waste in oceans and landfills.</p>
The Limits of Recycling<p>Yet not all are convinced the recycling of this waste is possible on a global scale. </p><p>"What those citizen groups are doing is really beneficial but once they collect it, it should just go to a landfill or an incinerator. They shouldn't necessarily expect it to get recycled," said Jonathan Krones, an industrial ecologist and visiting assistant professor of environmental studies at Boston College.</p><p>That's because mask recycling programs like Plaxtil are few and far between and most don't have the benefit of a readily adaptable production process. </p><p>Even in countries with solid recycling infrastructure, he says, the system is designed to separate out specific types of waste like bottles or cardboard.</p><p>"I imagine that it would be technically feasible to develop a separation process to filter out masks, but there simply aren't enough of them to make that economical," he said.</p><p>Collection is a big hurdle, he adds. Since each mask only weighs a fraction of a gram and they're scattered on roads or mixed with other trash, it is difficult and costly. </p><p>"You need a lot of raw material of the right quality to make investing in the recycling technology and the recycling system worthwhile," he said.<span></span><br></p>
Hemp, Sugar Cane and Sustainable Alternatives<p>Some projects are instead addressing the material used to make masks.</p><p>French company Geochanvre have created a mask made primarily from hemp, while in Australia, researchers at the Queensland University of Technology are experimenting with a disposable product made from agricultural waste. </p><p>Biodegradable options are exciting alternatives to reduce the fossil fuels needed for the creation of plastic-based masks, said Krones, but they don't absolve the wearer from the responsibility of what happens afterwards. </p><p>Bio-based masks often need their own composing solutions, he explains, because in landfill they can produce high amounts of the greenhouse gas methane when anaerobic bacteria feeds on the organic material. Methane is known to be significantly more potent than carbon dioxide.</p><p>"I think as long as we have in our mind that we want to have disposability, we're going to have to wrestle with a variety of different sorts of environmental tradeoffs," he said, adding that reusable, fabric masks are the best option available to most people.</p><p>Precimask is developing a clear face covering with an optional visor made from hard plastic, designed to be long-lasting.<br></p><p>Air enters either side of the cheeks through a technology normally found in pool filters and car exhaust systems, said company spokeswoman Juliette Chambet.</p><p>"We wanted to make ceramic-based filters that would be washable and cleanable, which would allow them to be reused as many times as desired without having to buy a new consumable or produce waste," she said. </p><p>Ultimately, encouraging mask wearers to think about the entire lifecycle of a mask is key, explains Neveu. </p><p>"We want people who put on the masks to realize that they are also responsible for the waste, he said. "It's not inevitable that this [pandemic] will become an environmental catastrophe.</p><p><em>Reposted with permission from </em><em><a href="https://www.dw.com/en/covid-19-recycling-pollution-trash-pandemic/a-55707817" target="_blank">Deutsche Welle</a>.</em><a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/r/entryeditor/2649032193#/" target="_self"></a></p>
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