Trace levels of iodine-131 radiation were found in Cal Poly dairy cows following the nuclear emergency in Japan last month. However, experts said there is nothing to worry about.
Penny Borenstein, the San Luis Obispo County public health officer, said Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E) and the California Department of Public Health began testing the milk in San Luis Obispo more regularly due to the concern of radiation traveling from Japan to California.
“PG&E has routinely tested milk for radiation for 25 years and since the incident in Japan, they went from testing once a month to once a week,” Borenstein said.
The California Department of Public Health also increased milk testing from quarterly to weekly, using samples from PG&E, Borenstein said.
Tests conducted by PG&E have shown a miniscule amount of radiation; however, Borenstein said it is nothing people in the county should be concerned about.
“The amount found was an extremely low amount, and the actual number was really just above the smallest amount that the machines are able to detect,” Borenstein said.
Borenstein said a person would need to drink around 1,000 liters of milk to reach an unsafe level of radiation.
However, some students, like computer science freshman Bucky Ford, are concerned about the fact that radiation has entered San Luis Obispo.
“It makes me scared to drink milk coming from the cows here,” Ford said. “It makes me wonder what the cows are eating or drinking that could also be affecting me.”
According to the California Department of Public Health website, when radioactive material is spread through the atmosphere, it drops to the ground and infiltrates the environment. When cows consume grass, hay, feed and water, the radioactivity is processed and becomes part of the milk we drink.
“I guess knowing that (the radiation) is definitely coming from Japan and the cows are getting it that way makes me feel a little bit better because that means the source is not around us,” Ford said.
Also, according to the website, radiation is all around us in our daily lives, and the amount of radiation that came from Japan is almost no different compared to what people experience every day.
Shelby Dolliver, a child development junior, said she was frightened to hear the word “radiation” but feels better knowing it is only a small amount.
“I drink milk with literally every meal and I would want to know if something was wrong with it,” Dolliver said. “But if (the radiation) is not going to affect me, I’ll obviously keep drinking it.”
According to the website, the milk is still safe to drink and there is absolutely no public threat. The result of the recent milk sampling showed that the amount of iodine found is nearly 1400 times less than the “danger zone,” according to U.S. Food and Drug Administration health standards.
“At this point we are not issuing any orders to reduce milk consumption,” Borenstein said. “And we also recommend against taking Potassium Iodide pills.”
Based on what is known about Japan’s nuclear accident, San Luis Obispo County residents can expect radioactive iodine levels to decrease within a few weeks. Eventually, the iodine levels will be virtually undetectable, and dissipate completely within a few months, according to the California Department of Health website.
“People should not be concerned about possible health risks,” Borenstein said.