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It’s been over a month since the tragic earthquake in Japan left a large portion of that country in a constant state of high alert. Concerns for leaking radiation from damaged nuclear plants continue to make many people all over the world nervous about the possibility of radioactive emissions falling in their area of the globe. Don’t let those who are quick to dismiss these concerns as "going overboard" deter you from getting the facts for yourself. Anyone who wonders what the dangers are should research the risks posed and decide if precautions are needed, even if the only benefit is peace of mind. Don’t we all at least wish for this? As I’ve said in my previous blog post about radiation and drinking water, there are so many claims out there about what method is best for filtering radioactive particles from water. It’s difficult to separate truth from wishful thinking. Chemistry was never my strong suit, but I’m learning a lot about radiation these days. I am happy to share what I have discovered with you here. I went to the Environmental Protection Agency's website to see what information they have available about radiation. I discovered they had plenty of free info available to citizens like me. I learned that most radiation occurs naturally at levels too low to be concerned about. I learned there exists a spectrum of radiation that includes lower level non-ionizing radiation such as sound waves, light, and microwaves. This is not the type of radiation we should be worried about, however. On the higher end of the spectrum is radiation that falls within the "ionizing radiation" range. Radiation within this range can be used in manufacturing processes, in cancer therapy, and to generate electricity. Radiation from Japan’s nuclear facilities falls into this category. [caption id="attachment_231" align="alignleft" width="365"]
Types of Radiation in the Electromagnetic Spectrum[/caption] There are three main kinds of ionizing radiation: alpha particles, beta particles, and gamma rays. The kind we are concerned about affecting our health from a nuclear reactor accident are beta particles. I could give you a detailed description about how beta particles are formed, but I doubt I’d fool you into thinking that I know what I’m talking about. In a nutshell, when the ratio of neutrons to protons becomes too high, it causes a chain reaction that forcibly removes an electron from the nucleus of an atom. The original radionuclide, considered a “beta emitter”, is transformed into a different element. There are many beta emitters including cesium-137, strontium-90, and iodine-131. Radioactive iodine is the biggest concern after a nuclear reactor accident. These particles are what are most likely to cause contamination to our food or water after a nuclear accident. According to information from the EPA's website, “ Direct exposure to beta particles is a hazard, because emissions from strong sources can redden or even burn the skin. However, emissions from inhaled or ingested beta particle emitters are the greatest concern. Beta particles released directly to living tissue can cause damage at the molecular level, which can disrupt cell function. Because they are much smaller and have less charge than alpha particles, beta particles generally travel further into tissues. As a result, the cellular damage is more dispersed.” A common fear of exposure to radiation from contaminated food and water after a nuclear accident is the threat of cancer. This can occur after long term low-level exposure and can take many years before symptoms appear. Immediate threats from higher doses of radiation can include burning of the skin and radiation sickness, or radiation poisoning. Symptoms include premature aging, nausea, hair loss, weakness, diminished energy, and sometimes death. Other long term health effects include physical anomalies in babies who are exposed in the womb, and genetic mutations passed on to future generations. So that’s some background information for you to try to absorb, but the burning question of the day remains, how can we protect ourselves if water becomes contaminated after a nuclear accident? First off, it is useful to know the MCL (maximum contaminant level) for beta particles in water. The EPA sets this at 4 millirems per year. If your water exceeds levels that could cause you harm, the EPA lists (drum roll, please) ion exchange and reverse osmosis as the two methods of filtering water that are proven effective. So there you have the results of my investigation. I am not saying there isn’t information out there on the web that will dispute this conclusion, and I know there are many who would never depend on or trust the EPA for a decision that may be the difference between life and death. I encourage you to do further research and see if there is information out there that can support, or dispel, these claims.
I am especially curious to learn of any credible information as to the effectiveness of silver-impregnated ceramic filters like are in many of our Katadyn water filters, including our best-selling Pocket Microfilter. I am also interested to see if claims that distilling removes radioactive particles is true. especially regarding iodine-131. Since we sell Katadyn products, and portable non-electric distillers, I would be pleased to know that both these methods are effective against the type of radiation we are currently concerned with. Unfortunately at this time, all I can claim is that the silver impregnated ceramic filters and distillation can reduce radioactive particles. And for me, that is an added sense of security. Please feel welcome to leave a comment if there is anything you can add to this conversation, or if you have any questions that you are itching to ask. I will do my best to respond and find answers. Thanks for reading! Update: January 10, 2013 The Vortex Non-electric Water Distiller Kit by Highwater Filters is now available. We have both kits installed in 5 gallon buckets and DIY kits available.
Update: We now carry CuZn Water Filtration products including a radiation filter. Go here to view replacement filter. Triple under counter for radiation, fluoride, chlorine and other contaminants.