For anyone who uses rainwater as a drinking water source, radiation exposure could be higher than for someone drinking from a public water system, though that level is still far to low to cause a health risk, the Centers for Disease Control said as part of a joint statement with the EPA and Food and Drug Administration.
“The levels being seen now are 25 times below the level that would be of concern for use as a sole source of water over a short period of time,” the CDC said in the joint statement, “even for infants, pregnant women or breastfeeding women, who are the most sensitive to radiation.”
Reporting of radiation levels comes from the EPA's network of radiation sensors in its RadNet system, which includes more than 100 real-time radiation air monitors in 48 states as well as 40 units it can deploy anywhere in the country.
“As a result of the incident with the Fukushima nuclear plant in Japan, several EPA air monitors have detected very low levels of radioactive material in the United States consistent with estimates from the damaged nuclear reactors,” the EPA said in its statement.
But even though short-term hikes “do not raise public health concerns” and such levels in rainwater are expected to be relatively short, the EPA said it would increase the monitoring of precipitation, drinking water, and other “potential exposure routes.”
One key area being watched is the US milk supply. After the Chernobyl meltdown in 1986, it was found that cows had eaten grass tainted by radioactive fallout from the reactor. Concentrated radioiodine in the milk was blamed later for causing health problems in humans who drank it. The Soviet government was blamed for not warning the public.
Similarly, the US government was blamed for downplaying radioactive fallout as a health threat during atmospheric weapons testing in the 1950s and early 1960s. Such experience has translated into a high level of public distrust in many nations, experts say.