No-drink order in Old Massett, following radiation increase

  • Apr. 8, 2011 5:00 p.m.

Old Massett has issued a no-drink order for rainwater after levels of iodine 131, an indicator of radioactivity, were found to be rising. But a provincial health official says there is no cause for concern, and that amounts found in Old Massett are miniscule, far less than one millionth of the amount shown to cause thyroid disease. Acting band manager John Disney wasn’t satisfied with the monitoring underway since the problems began at the nuclear plant in Fukushima, Japan, so he set up a regime – two tests a week of rainwater, stream water and groundwater. Seeing levels of iodine 131 in rainwater rise steeply (from unmeasurable to 1.1 becquerels per litre) between March 24 and April 1, he has since ramped up the testing to once a day. Mr. Disney said the level determined as dangerous is 6, but because the tests are a few days behind, he is worried about continuing increases at that rate. So far streamwater and groundwater are testing fine, but he his keeping his eye on all levels. But according to BC Centre for Disease Control’s Ritinder Harry, the amounts found in the Old Massett data (1.1 bq/l) are miniscule and are much lower even that amounts found by Simon Fraser researchers, which was less than one millionth the amount that has been shown to cause disease in the thyroid. “Both studies have found minute traces, reinforcing that there are no health concerns for people who drink rainwater or eat seaweed in BC,” she said. The BCCDC also had this information on their website “For example to reach a concerning level in the thyroid, a person would have to drink 815,143 litres of water at one time. This radioactive iodine will continue to decay but we would expect that trace amounts may be found until several weeks after the nuclear reactor incident has resolved.” But Mr. Disney is not satisfied. As of April 5, the most recent results he’d received were from April 1. Mr. Disney was expecting more back later that day. He said his suspicisions around adequate government testing started 25 years ago, after the nuclear meltdown in Chernobyl, Ukraine. He’d been out on his fishing boat and heard the Coast Guard over the radio telling lighthouse operators to disconnect their rainwater systems. When he tried to find out why, the local, provincial and federal health authorities told him not to worry, the coast guard were just being overcautious. He asked whether they were testing and was assured they were. But he decided to do his own investigation and took samples from his Nadu Road rain catchment system to a private lab. They found two types of radiation were at the danger level. He drained his 4,000 gallon tank. Fast forward to two weeks ago, post-tsunami in Japan, he said, when he was told not to worry about potential radiation in the rainwater here. “My hair stood straight up,” he said. As the band manager, he realized he was responsible for the community, so he went to the Health Centre and got a regime going. A private lab in Saskatchewan is doing the tests, which he says can be turned around in 48 hours. He also set the Emergency Preparedness committee in motion to come up with a plan. Mr. Disney says the first place radiation will show up is in the rainwater. “What’s the plan to tell the community,” Mr. Disney asked the Emergency Preparedness volunteers. Then, he asked, what if it gets in the groundwater? What if people can no longer drink water out of the tap? Mr. Disney said the north end has three reservoirs, in Old Massett, in New Town and in Masset. He suggested they find a way to isolate the tanks, and then water could be rationed for drinking and cooking. “At the end of the day, the community’s health is at stake.” So far he has been trying to share the information and post it in public places. He also has an direct email list and a connection with pregnant mothers and those with newborns, who are at a higher risk. He sent the no-drink order to other communities on the islands. The Observer spoke with administrator Bill Beamish in Queen Charlotte. He said they had forwarded the information to the provincial emergency program on April 4 and asked for direction. He had not heard back by press time (April 5, 2 pm). Mr. Beamish said he and emergency-preparedness committee chair Larry Duke were on a province-wide call a couple of weeks ago and were assured that the whole coast was being monitored. Meanwhile North Coast MLA Gary Coons is still waiting for information about Health Canada monitoring sites, six of which are set up in Nanaimo and further south. Nine more monitors were ordered, but he has yet to receive any response to his questions about where those are going. Mr. Coons said the nine extra monitors were meant to reassure Canadians. “I want my constituents to be reassured,” he said. He’s gotten queries from Bella Coola and other coastal sites. At this time of year people are hoping to gather seaweed, he said, but they don’t know if its safe. On the Health Canada website, a mobile monitoring station is listed as being near Haida Gwaii, but monitoring decreased on March 25 due to low levels of radiation being detected. The message from Health Canada’s fixed point surveillance network as of April 3 was that there is no health risk to Canadians.

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