CITY NEWS SERVICE
Health and environmental officials in the Southland and across the state — and even President Barack Obama — worked on Thursday to assure residents that there was minimal local threat from radiation emanating from an earthquake-damaged nuclear power plant in Japan.
“I want to reassure everybody that we do not expect to see harmful levels of radiation in the United States” or Los Angeles, county health director Dr. Jonathan Fielding said.
Fielding noted that “given that there’s more than 5,000 miles that separates Japan and Los Angeles,” any radiation that reaches Southern California would be “well-diluted by the time it reaches the West Coast.”
The South Coast Air Quality Management District announced Wednesday that although no heightened radiation levels had been detected in the area, it would post daily updates on its website — www.aqmd.gov — about radiation levels.
For today, the AQMD reported “no increased risk detected above background levels.”
The AQMD operates radiation monitors at three sites in Southern California, under the auspices of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
Radiation levels at the three monitors are read hourly and reported to the EPA. Despite reports that radiation from the Fukushima nuclear power plant in Japan might reach Southern California by Friday, state health director Howard Backer insisted there was no health risk.
“We understand people’s concerns,” Backer said. “Radiation is scary stuff. It can have devastating effects in high does, but we also need to remember that radiation is part of our natural environment.”
Backer also said any radiation from Japan would be highly diluted by the time it reaches California.
“We do not anticipate any amount of radiation that would cause any health effects,” he said. “… We’re 5,000 miles away, which would have a major dispersal effect on any radiation.”
A local broadcast news reporter returning from Japan Wednesday reported via Twitter that passengers were being “wanded for radiation” at Los Angeles International Airport. Some passengers arriving at the airport today told reporters they had not encountered any radiation screening.
An LAX spokesman referred inquiries today to officials with U.S. Customs and Border Protection. Agency officials could not be reached for immediate comment, CBP issued a statement noting that it had been paying closer attention to U.S.-bound flights from Japan since Tuesday, although it did not give specifics.
According to the agency, no dangerous levels of radiation had been detected among any passengers or cargo.
Fielding downplayed some media reports about U.S. airline passengers being found to have elevated radiation levels, noting that such occurrences are common and can often be attributed to causes such as recent medical procedures or even possession or exposure to clay-based products such as ceramic tile or cat litter.
At a White House news conference, Obama also tried to ease people’s fears about radiation danger.
“We do not expect harmful levels of radiation to reach the United States, whether it’s the West Coast, Hawaii, Alaska or U.S. territories in the Pacific,” he said. “… That is the judgment of our Nuclear Regulatory Commission and many other experts.
“Furthermore, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and public health experts do not recommend that people in the United States take precautionary measures beyond staying informed,” he said.
Health officials stressed that people should not be ingesting potassium iodide, which is believed to prevent the body’s absorption of radiation.
“Residents who ingest potassium iodide out of concern of possible exposure from this situation are doing something which is not only ineffective, but could also cause side effects,” he said Wednesday. “If a need should arise for residents to start taking potassium iodide to guard against effects of radiation exposure, the Los Angeles County Public Health Department — along with other local, state and federal agencies — will inform the public. We do not anticipate this need.”
Among the side effects include nausea, intestinal upset, rashes, inflammation of the salivary glands and possible severe allergic reactions, he said.
Chuck Pickering, chief safety officer at City of Hope hospital in Duarte, told KCAL9 that people should go about their lives normally without fear of radiation.
“The amount of radiation we are all exposed to every day, every year, varies quite a bit around the world,” he said. “Even in Denver, the radiation levels — the population of Denver is exposed to twice what we would get here in Los Angeles. So the amount of radiation someone might be exposed to we
expect to be actually much less than if you went and lived in Denver for a period of time.”