by Michael Platt
There’s no need to panic — probably. But not knowing whether to shrug or cower over radioactive iodine falling on Calgary as a result of a meltdown in Japan last year has Canada’s top nuclear critic wondering why.
“Why aren’t they just reporting this stuff and not commenting — they seem to take it upon themselves to deny there’s any danger, even enough to let people know what’s happening.”
Edwards, a university professor, is president of the Canadian Coalition for Nuclear Responsibility and a former advisor on nuclear matters to Ottawa and the Ontario government.
Thorn in side
When it comes to radiation, and the fallout following the Fukushima nuclear accident, Edwards is a thorn in the side of Heath Canada, sounding the alarm when officially, there isn’t one.
He’s been pointed when saying radiation from Fukushima will lead to higher rates of cancer in Canada — though he’s also quick to say the risk is tiny on a per-person basis.
Now he’s asking questions about rain which fell on Calgary shortly after the nuclear disaster last March, containing radioactive iodine well above the Health Canada guidelines for drinking water.
Officially, Calgarians have nothing much to worry about.
Health Canada hasn’t even released the data, saying it’s too small an amount to be worthy of public comment — and the same silence has applied for much of the Canadian data collected so far.
And while Edwards technically agrees there’s little need to worry, he says that should be something Calgarians and Canadians can decide for themselves.
“There are certain people who might be concerned — for instance, a pregnant woman,” said Edwards.
“When a baby is growing inside, that baby should not be getting a dose of radiation at a critical moment of development, because when an embryo gets radiation, one damaged cell can multiply.
“A fetus is far more susceptible to radiation. Is a fetus likely to be harmed by this level of radiation? No, but could it be, yes.”
Health Canada confirms that last March, after the Fukushima nuclear accident, a Calgary monitoring station detected an average of 8.18 becquerels per litre of radioactive iodine, stemming from Japan.
Canadian guidelines limit exposure to six becquerels of iodine per litre of drinking water, and much lower radiation spikes in the U.S. resulted in a “don’t drink the rainwater” order.
But not here.
Edwards says Calgarians should at least have known there was a spike beyond recommended levels, especially as rain-bourne radiation concentrates in vegetation and the food chain.
“It’s not up to Health Canada to decide for everybody else what they should do,” said Edwards.
“They should announce the figures and let people decide for themselves.”
Health Canada maintains that Canadians have nothing to worry about, despite Calgary’s radiation peak and smaller spikes found in Vancouver, Winnipeg and Ottawa.
Only in Calgary did the Fukushima fallout push rain past the Canadian limit for drinking water — yet not enough for Health Canada to issue a warning.
Even now, officials with the federal agency say raising red flags over a “one off” sample of radioactive rain is fearmongering — and Health Canada’s senior medical advisor says there’s no valid basis.
“Even if the level in water was close to what the upper limits would be, that would still mean someone would have to consume two litres a day, all year, in order to reach a level where they might possibly be at risk,” said Dr. Paul Gully.
“Therefore, for a level to be identified in Calgary in rainwater on one occasion, really means there is no risk — not in the past and not now.”
Gully says those with a concern over radiation should be assured the moment there was a real risk, Health Canada would make it very clear.
“Be reassured if there was a problem, and Health Canada does continuous monitoring, then Canadians would be informed,” said Gully.
“But we would not want to alarm the public by continually saying, there’s no risk.”