Is Fukushima radiation posing a threat to fish caught off the B.C. coast?

VANCOUVER –After a 9.0-magnitude earthquake struck off the coast of Japan, triggering meltdowns at three reactors at the Fukushima Dai-Ichi nuclear power plant, public concern mounted over fears of finding toxic fish off the B.C. coast.

But experts say that hasn’t happened.

SFU nuclear scientist Kris Starosta runs a lab that tests samples provided by members of the public. The lab tests debris from the waters off the B.C. coast, seaweed and fish. Starosta says people need to remember that there is natural radiation already present in the water, so fish and other organisms will contain some radiation.

“Everything we are seeing is due to the natural sources,” he says.

Starosta says those levels of radiation are from nuclear weapons tests conducted in the 50s, 60s and 70s, resulting in some levels of radiation in the water.

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But those levels are not enough to cause concern, says Starosta.

“The radiation levels we can attribute to Fukushima are essentially not visible,” he says. “What I do see is effects from the weapons tests and natural radiation. That has been there before Fukushima.”

Dr. Erica Frank, professor and Canada Research Chair at the University of British Columbia says she continues to eat seafood caught off the coast of B.C. “I don’t eat seafood caught in Asia,” she says.

Frank says one of the biggest issues is the lack of information released to the public on the subject of radiation testing. She says while there has been some level of radiation detected in B.C. waters, the levels are low, “but it’s not zero, and the Fukushima nuclear reactor continues to gush radioactive water into the Pacific. CFIA [Canadian Food Inspection Agency], PHAC [Public Health Agency of Canada], and the FDA [Food and Drug Administration], stated that they would monitor and publish their data on salmon and other B.C.-caught fish, but they’re not, and they should.”

A spokesperson for the CFIA, Lisa Murphy, says in an email that despite not publishing any new results on the testing since March 2012, “the Government of Canada continues to monitor events in Japan and assess any potential impacts on Canada’s food supply.”

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“Part of the CFIA’s response included a sampling and testing strategy, which tested more than 200 food samples immediately following the situation in Japan in 2011,” adds Murphy. “This included imported food products from Japan, domestic milk from B.C. and migratory fish samples off the coast of B.C.”

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The CFIA did conduct tests for radioactive material in 2011 and 2012, and all food samples tested were not considered a health risk to consumers.

The domestic fish samples collected included pollock, hake, pink salmon, sockeye salmon, chum salmon, coho salmon, spring salmon, and albacore tuna. Murphy says all test results were below the Health Canada and CODEX (guideline levels for radionuclides in foods), action limits and were published online.

“Based on our test results, as well as our ongoing assessment of information from a variety of expert resources, further testing of imported or domestic food products for the presence of radioactive material is not required,” says Murphy.

“The CFIA would take immediate action if it was determined that any food samples represented a potential health risk to consumers.”

Frank says the CFIA is in error by not publishing all its data for the public to see every time they test.

“It’s a lost opportunity,” she says. “Seize this opportunity to build credibility as a reliable source.”

But Murphy says the CFIA continues to monitor events in Japan and assess any potential impacts on Canada’s food supply.

Japan also has controls in place for food originating from three prefectures where test results are showing contaminated products. Murphy says food from these prefectures requires pre-market testing and/or is not allowed to enter the food supply. This includes Japan’s food supply and exports.

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“Based on our ongoing assessment… food safety controls would be adjusted, if warranted, to maintain the safety of Canada’s food supply,” she adds.

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