According to a variety of press reports, Japan announced the first signs that contamination from its tsunami-crippled nuclear complex have seeped into the food chain, saying that radiation levels in spinach and milk from farms near the facility exceeded government safety limits.
The government’s top spokesman, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano, said at a news conference Saturday that tainted milk and spinach were collected from several farms ranging from 20 miles (30 kilometers) to 75 miles (120 kilometers) away from the reactors.
Iodine levels in the spinach exceeded safety limits by three to seven times, a food safety official said. Tests on the milk done Wednesday detected small amounts of iodine-131 and cesium-137. High levels of iodine are linked to thyroid cancer, one of the least deadly cancers if treated. Cesium is a longer-lasting element that affects the whole body and raises cancer risk. But only iodine was detected Thursday and Friday, a Health Ministry official said.
After the announcements, Japanese officials immediately tried to calm an already-jittery public, saying the amounts detected were so small that people would have to consume unimaginable amounts to endanger their health.
“Can you imagine eating one kilogram of spinach every day for one year?” said State Secretary of Health Minister Yoko Komiyama. One kilogram is a little over two pounds.
Edano said someone drinking the tainted milk for one year would consume as much radiation as in a CT scan; for the spinach, it would be one-fifth of a CT scan. A CT scan is a compressed series of X-rays used for medical tests.