Posts Tagged ‘radiation’

Letting go but not giving up

May 6, 2011
It’s been a long time since I’ve posted here at Legitimate Citizen.
We sort of got washed away in the overwhelm that followed the Honshu quake and the Fukashima Daiichi reactor crisis.  We continue to monitor radiation levels in the states via EPA RadNet and RadiationNetwork. We have struggled with the math as we tried to make sense of the reporting on the incident. After months of conflicting reports and journalistic slight of hand, we have come to a few conclusions.
1) The reporting of radiation releases in the various scales is confusing and probably intentional. We heard rads and sieverts, rems and millirems. Each scale finds use for different purposes and distinguishing between the various scales and which should be used under what circumstances is an arcane science to those of use who don’t work with this stuff every day. We feel that authorities have no interested in provided the public with accurate information, so they kept us confused and scrambling with their nuclear shell game.
p.s. – when numbers get reported in terms of Sieverts that’s usually a very bad sign…
2) If we really knew and understood the magnitude of what has happened to us, we would be enraged and outraged. However, once it’s out, it’s out. There’s not a lot you can do about it. You can take measures to try to protect yourself from radiation. And you can take steps to try to support your body with the tools it needs to mitigate and repair radiation damage. But, mostly, if you’ve been radiated, you just have to do the best you can and wait to see what happens in a couple of decades.
There is a ton of “information” and pseudo-science on the internet about what to do in the event of radiation exposure. Some of these things seem pretty extreme and I’m not certain that they wouldn’t be more harmful than the radiation itself.
Myself, I stick with miso and   teas that contain stinging nettle. Miso contains a compound called dipicolinic acid that has been shown to protect cells from certain forms of radiation. There is anecdotal evidence that it affords considerable protection… but, again, that’s anecdotal evidence. The research on it is limited. But I like miso, so it’s no big deal for me. It’s already part of my diet.
The stinging nettle tea… I can’t remember where I got it. The University of Maryland Medical Center website has a good article on the medicinal properties of stinging nettle. It states, in part:
“Stinging nettle has been used for hundreds of years to treat painful muscles and joints, eczema, arthritis, gout, and anemia. Today, many people use it to treat urinary problems during the early stages of an enlarged prostate (called benign prostatic hyperplasia or BPH), for urinary tract infections, for hay fever (allergic rhinitis), or in compresses or creams for treating joint pain, sprains and strains, tendonitis, and insect bites” (University of Maryland, 2010).
While none of that speaks specifically to radiation exposure, nothing I read in there sounds like it’s going to hurt me. Stinging nettle figured prominently in the ingredient list of an “anti-radiation tea” a friend of mine drank religiously after being exposed to radiation from Chernobyl.
3) More than likely, there has been more radiation released than we will ever know. Over the past few months, our casual monitoring has shown us that radiation levels frequently spiked to over a hundred times our normal background level here in Albuquerque. Spikes in other areas were much higher. While this was going on, all we heard in the media was that there was no cause for concern. We may never know directly exactly how bad this event has been. We will see its effects in sea life, in cancer clusters, and in abbreviated lifespans.
4) There is no such thing as healthy radiation (the relationship between sunshine and vitamin D notwithstanding).  Ionizing radiation is not good for you. It is used to treat cancer because it is deadly for cells — and cancer cells are more fragile than normal, healthy cells. Ionizing radiation is always bad for you — and for every other living organism.
5) Ionizing radiation dosages are cumulative. It doesn’t wear off like a dose of aspirin. You can get away with smaller exposures over longer periods of time because your body comes closer to being able to repair the damage to its cells as this damage happens. When the doses are larger and/or closer together, your body can’t keep up. There is the chance that damaged cells will not die, but will replicate with their damaged genetic material. Ionizing radiation doses are cumulative.
The lessons of the crisis in Japan are hard. I’m not talking about the lessons for society about energy, or for policy makers concerned with nuclear waste. I’m talking about the lessons for you and I. The lessons are hard: there are things which are completely out of our control; there are events from which we will be unable protect ourselves regardless of our plans and preparations; control is an illusion; we cannot separate ourselves from the rest of the world – we are all interconnected. We’re all in this together.
Since I am seeing that there are things I cannot control, in order to better cope with this crisis, I look at things I can control and the choices I make. I can choose to use less energy, or choose to generate some of my own power through wind and/or solar (we’re not there yet, but it is on the table). I can take care of myself in a way that supports my body to maintain and heal itself – regardless of what I may or may not have been exposed to. I can make choices that reduce my dependence on a system that is not sustainable (like raising some of my own food). I can make choices that help sustain the world as it repairs itself (like planting plants, trees and shrubs that support wildlife or installing bat houses and bird houses or keeping bees). I can choose to do things that bring me peace in the face of the anxiety caused by so many unknowns and so many things that are out of my control: prayer, meditation, study. I can make my voice heard with my elected officials: voicing my opinion about sustainable energy, sustainable agriculture, opposing big-pharma & giant mono-culture agri-business, opposing ramapant insecticide and herbicide use, opposing GMO’s at every level.
Essentially, I’ve been looking at this crisis and I’ve come to the conclusion that there’s not a damned thing I can do about it directly. Here I am. There they are. I’m not a nuclear engineer. I am one woman. I’m going to do what I can where I am and let God, the Universe, the Great Pumpkin or whatever Higher Power there may be take care of the rest.
Thanks for reading.
~ L.
References
University of Maryland School of Medicine. 2010. Retrieved from: http://www.umm.edu/altmed/articles/stinging-nettle-000275.htm

Radiation angst… see for yourself

March 23, 2011

Until the recent earthquake in Japan, the resultant tsunami and the looming nuclear situation, I had been working on a post about utilities. Specifically, how it is that people in New Mexico didn’t have natural gas to heat their homes during the coldest days in recent memory. It’s a fascinating story with many maddening twists that people who live in this state really ought to understand. But, it’s been pre-empted by another utility situation: Fukashima Daiishi.

I don’t know about you, but my radiation knowledge is not what it probably should be. I mean, I know my “friends” are time, shielding and distance. Limit exposure time. Shielding material can help protect from additional exposure. Get as far away as possible when it’s safe.  Simple right? Sure… until you factor in an unknown radiation source (how much? how fast? what kinds?) and things like the jet stream, prevailing winds and rain. What did it all mean?

Radiation is not as straighforward as natural gas. some radiation, alpha and beta particles, are actual particles. A piece of paper would stop radiation emitted from an alpha particle. Beta radiation is blocked by the dead layer of skin cells, the outermost layer of your epidermis. So you’re safe…? Maybe… unless an event involves gamma or neutron radiation. Then, save for distance or lead shielding, there’s no defense against it.

So, how do we know?

Mostly, we don’t. The public does have some access to government and private radiation monitoring information [see links below]. But, accuracy varies widely. Government officials are notorious for taking a detector offline to “determine its accuracy” when it registers a reading they consider abnormal. In this situation, with five nuclear reactors about to crap out their cores at the other end of the jet stream, who’s to say what’s abnormal?

At our house, we’ve been monitoring radiation levels almost since the start of the incident using the websites below — and charting the trends. Tonight, on the evening news, we heard the first announcement that radiation from Japan was passing over the United States. It was nice to feel like we were on top of things. It feels nice to know that we know (or think we know) what’s going on.

So far, we’re not overly alarmed about the radiation levels we’re seeing. They’re elevated. Sometimes sharply so. The highest reading to date has been about five times our normal background level of radiation… but even that was only two and a half times the normal background radiation on a sunny summer day in Denver. Even at that level, even at five times our normal level, it wasn’t at a level that anyone considers dangerous. At least, not acutely dangerous.

The thing with radiation… is that sometimes your body is able to repair cellular damage than can be caused by radiation exposure. If the exposure is slight enough and occurs over a long enough period of time, it has virtually ZERO impact on your lifespan, or even on your odds of getting cancer. It’s really high, rapid, all-of-a-sudden, sorts of exposure that get you into deep trouble. When the damage occurs faster than your body can compensate and repair it, you end up with all manner of nastiness. Still, long term radiation exposure is generally no good for you (UV and vitamin D relationship aside). You want to avoid it if you can. That’s why your doctor tells you to wear sunscreen and sunglasses (cataracts are the most common form of radiation damage).

So, in the weeks to come, I’ll try to work up some charts to give you guys some numbers on radiation exposure, what the numbers in the media mean, how radiation is measured and why that should be important to you. And we’ll talk about radiation and preparedness: the duct tape and plastic drill, when and why to stock up of potassium idodide, that kind of thing.

Suffice to say, our advice is not to panic. We’ve been watching this thing unfold for awhile. We’ve seen radon detectors pawned off as radiation detectors… $400 geiger counters selling for thousands… and $20 bottle of potassium iodide tablets selling for hundred of dollars. In every situation like this, there are going to be people who prey on your fears. Being educated on the real risks is your best defense.

Here are the links we use to monitor radiation:

EPA website for radiation monitoring: click the link. In the center of the first paragraph, there is a link labeled RadNet Map View. Click that link. It will take you to a page where it displays the EPA’s permanent and mobile radiation detectors.  http://www.epa.gov/cdx/

Radiation Network: a really level-headed guy who runs a grassroots radiation monitoring network. The monitoring stations are all volunteer efforts. Check it out. http://www.radiationnetwork.com/

Black Cat Systems: online ionizing radiation network. Another private endeavor. Although I think his map is a little cumbersome, he has great information on different type of detectors, why readings vary and tons of other reasons not to panic.  http://www.blackcatsystems.com/RadMap/map.html

So, there you have it… our first two bits on Fukashima and radiation. Obviously, you have homework. You’re going to need to know the normal background radiation levels for your area… and you’ll need to know how to convert UTC to your local time zone in order to figure our when a particular reading came in… So, you can either wait for this info in coming posts, or you can make yourself feel better by actually DOING something rather than waiting for some talking head to tell you what you already suspected. Now go get ’em!!!

Thanks for reading… we’re all in this together.

~L.