Mar 21, 2011
As events unfold in Japan, one can't help but worry about the consequences on health due to the developing emergency at the Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant. Day by day, we are learning about escalating efforts by Japanese emergency workers and engineers stepping up their strategy in preventing a major meltdown. Low levels of radiation are detected both locally and in other countries, particularly in the United States on the west coast. Very low levels of radiation have also been detected in the food supply in Japan.
Should one be worried about radiation exposure?
It certainly is a valid and justified concern, particular for those currently living in Japan and in close proximity to the nuclear reactors.
In case things do take a turn for the worse, "radiation sickness" or symptoms of radiation exposure can be recognized. The sequela of radiation exposure are especially relevant at this time for the Japanese workers who are working within the epicenter of the nuclear reactors and risking their lives to avert disaster. As an additional note, I want to emphasize, that along with the many who are now working hard in the recovery efforts, the workers at the Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant should be recognized as heroes.
What are symptoms of acute radiation exposure?
Acute radiation exposure symptoms depend on the level of radiation exposure. Symptoms and signs include the following:
- Gastrointestinal effects such as nausea and vomiting
- Hematological disturbances such as anemia and bleeding
- Immunological compromise leading to infection
- Usually associated with larger dose exposures, neurological impairment and rapid death can occur
Chronic radiation exposure or long term effects can lead to genetic damage subsequently putting someone at risk for development of cancers and other hematological conditions.
While workers in Japan and those in the epicenter of the evolving nuclear emergency should certainly be vigilant of radiation exposure symptoms. However, people outside of Japan, particularly those in North America, including the continental United States, Pacific Islands (including Hawaii), Canada, and countries of South America at this time should not be alarmed. In my opinion, while the ultra-sensitive radioactivity detectors in for example, the United States, will likely pick up some degree of very low radioactivity, the effective health consequences of this measured radioactivity is essentially nil at this point based on the current situation.