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Dealing with radiation in water and food

Trace amounts of radiation from the Japanese disaster have been detected in Alabama
Trace amounts of radiation from the Japanese disaster have been detected in Alabama
Paula Bronstein/Getty Images

As I write this, reports are coming in that radiation levels in the water around the Fukushima nuclear plant are high enough to give a person radiation sickness. This news should cause all of us some concern as low levels of radiation from this event have been detected in Alabama and as far away as Massachusetts. That said, finding yourself downwind from a nuclear disaster does not mean the end of the world. It does mean that if you find yourself in an area that has been saturated with highly radioactive fallout that you will have to be extremely careful about what you eat and drink for the next week or two. While radiation levels in our area will hopefully stay low, now seems like a good time to look at how we might deal with the worst case scenario.

Monitor your local news. If dangerous levels of radiation are detected, public warnings will begin shortly afterward. If warnings hit the airwaves, stay inside as much as possible and use the following techniques for dealing with contaminated water and food.

While water itself does not become radioactive, it can contain radioactive particles and normal means of purification will not get rid of this residual radiation. However, even water that is heavily contaminated by fallout can be made drinkable.

If water supplies are limited, begin by filtering the water through several layers of heavy cloth or paper towels. Then add a few handfuls of uncontaminated dirt to the water. While this might seem counterintuitive to water purification, the dirt actually acts as a sponge that absorbs radioactive particles. Allow the water to sit for at least three hours to allow the dirt and radioactive particles to settle to the bottom. Take the water off the top and then treat it as you would any questionable source of water.

If large supplies of water are available, make a filter using a flower pot or similar container. Find a good sized flower pot and punch a few holes in the bottom if it doesn't already have them. Fill the pot with uncontaminated soil and arrange it above another clean container. Pour the water into the soil and allow it to drain into the other container. Once this clean container is full, let the water sit for at least two hours to allow any particulate matter to settle to the bottom. Take the water off the top and treat as you would any questionable source of water.

If fallout levels become such that they are a danger to the food supply, your only meals for the next few weeks might consist of what you have stored and what you are able to scrounge so put aside some emergency food now. Most foods housed indoors will be safe as long as they are stored in dust proof containers. Foods that are vacuum packed or stored in airtight containers are safe. Wash any containers before opening them. Foods that have their own containers such as eggs, bananas and oranges are also safe. Washing and peeling all fruits and vegetables will also help to remove any fallout dust they have encountered.

High levels of radiation affect animal and plant life in all sorts of bad ways that range from mutation to death. If an area has been blanketed by highly radioactive fallout, be wary of eating any animal or plant life in that area. Do not drink any milk or eat any part from any animal that appears sick or is in the vicinity of dead animals.

While I sincerely hope that none of these precautions are necessary, if the situation degenerates to the point where radiation from Japan is a real threat, please do not panic. Nuclear fallout in our area does not mean we are all going to die. It just means we will have to get a little more cautious about how we go about our day.


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