The List

Japan's radioactive tap water and 3 other new risks

Japanese officials set off warning bells in Tokyo by reporting that the city's tap water could imperil infants. And that's not the only contamination risk sparked by the nuclear crisis

After discovering dangerous levels of radiation in the tap water in Tokyo and surrounding areas, Japanese officials have warned parents to prevent their infants from drinking it — triggering a run on bottled water. Radioactive fallout from the struggling nuclear reactors in Fukushima prefecture has also prompted restrictions on agricultural products in Japan and several other countries. How dangerous are the contamination risks for Japan's reeling population? Here, a brief guide:

1. Tap waterTokyo's water officials said Wednesday that they'd found dangerous levels of radioactive iodine-131 — 210 becquerels per liter, to be precise — in the city's drinking water. Although levels up to 300 becquerels per liter are considered safe for adult consumption, anything over 100 becquerels is a risk for babies. Officials pledged to deliver bottled water to the 80,000 homes with kids under age 1, but people in Tokyo and surrounding areas didn't wait around, emptying store shelves of bottled water. Though iodine levels had dipped back to 79 becquerels by Thursday, city officials said that "continued monitoring of the situation is essential."

2. VegetablesDangerous levels of radioactive contamination were found in 11 kinds of vegetables in Fukushima and neighboring Ibaraki prefecture. The Japanese government ordered those two prefectures, plus two more, to halt all shipments of affected vegetables, and restricted sales from six other surrounding prefectures. U.S. health experts agreed that the recorded radiation levels in these green leafy veggies don't pose much of a health risk, but a Japanese official still warned that people should "refrain from eating them as much as possible, as a precaution."

3. MilkDairy products are perhaps the biggest health concern, especially for Japan's children. In the U.S., milk that was contaminated by the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear plant disaster — cows ate grass blanketed in radiation, and kids drank the milk — is blamed for at least 6,000 cases of thyroid cancer so far. The U.S., Singapore, and Hong Kong have banned milk products from the four worst-hit prefectures, and Japan has suspended raw milk shipments from Fukushima and Ibaraki. That's a bit of an overreaction, says U.S. health physicist Peter Caracappa. He estimates you'd have to drink 58,000 glasses of tainted Japanese milk to raise your lifetime cancer risk by 4 percent.

4. SeafoodThe high levels of radiation in the seawater around the Fukushima reactors are a big threat to Japan's multibillion-dollar seafood industry, and several Asian countries have already banned Japanese seafood. Japan insists that no fish are being caught anywhere near the reactors, and that they're diligently testing seafood, and have found no dangerous levels of radiation. A U.S. sushi chain's refusal to buy Japanese fish is an "overreaction," says Edward Flattau at The Huffington Post. But radiation could still increase as it moves up the food chain, from small fish to bigger ones, "insidiously concentrating at the top where we reside."

Sources: New York Times, Reuters, The National, The Daily Yomiuri, CNN, VPR, Bloomberg, Huffington Post

Recommended

China may have just 'strengthened its bargaining position' through 'hostage diplomacy'
Meng Wanzhou.
a win for beijing?

China may have just 'strengthened its bargaining position' through 'hostage diplomacy'

Taliban foot soldiers warned against taking selfies with leaders because of security concerns
Taliban fighters.
put the phones away

Taliban foot soldiers warned against taking selfies with leaders because of security concerns

Just how much are 2020 U.S. election conspiracies affecting Germany's own vote?
AFD campaign event in Germany.
American influence?

Just how much are 2020 U.S. election conspiracies affecting Germany's own vote?

10 things you need to know today: September 25, 2021
Quad leaders meet at White House.
Daily briefing

10 things you need to know today: September 25, 2021

Most Popular

Jimmy Fallon and Nicole Kidman almost make it through interview without awkwardness
Jimmy Fallon and Nicole Kidman
Last Night on Late Night

Jimmy Fallon and Nicole Kidman almost make it through interview without awkwardness

Democrats are governing like Republicans
A donkey.
Picture of W. James Antle IIIW. James Antle III

Democrats are governing like Republicans

7 cartoons about America's vaccine fights
Editorial Cartoon.
Feature

7 cartoons about America's vaccine fights