[ RadSafe ] Detectability vs. Hazard

Jerry Cohen jjc105 at yahoo.com
Sat Mar 19 18:58:06 CDT 2011

    An almost unique property of radioactivity is that is that it is detectable 
even in miniscule quantities. In this regard, it is interesting to review the 
case of Mercury (Hg) in seawater. A few decades ago there was serious concern 
about consuming seafood which was found to be "tainted" with Hg. Swordfish was 
not being consumed and even canned tuna fish was viewed with alarm. This Hg 
contamination was considered the result of industrial pollution and Hg was the 
cause of considerable concern. Government funding supported much funding to 
research the "problem" and people were worried.
    Rational assessment at the time revealed that the most ambitious industrial 
activity and all of mankind's historical use of Hg could only account for a 
minute fraction of the total oceanic Hg inventory. So where did all of this Hg 
come from? The obvious answer is that the Hg was always there. In the eons since 
the earth was formed, the continuing hydrologic cycle caused rain to leach Hg 
and other minerals from the land, carrying it via the  rivers to the ocean where 
it remained and concentrated over all time. So, how was it that in the 60's and 
70's there becaome so much concern. I think I know the reason. Some time around 
the early 60's, atomic absorbtion (AA) analysis was developed and man was able 
to detect miniscule concentrations of Hg which were previously undetectable. 
Researches hyped the Hg problem to secure funding for further study, the news 
media reported extensively on the threat,  and perception of the problem 
snowballed. Finally, they discovered a store of tuna fish that had been canned 
in the early 20's, and found Hg concentrations similar to those that caused the 
current alarm showing that oceanic Hg levels were pretty much always there. 
Despite this, a lot of people still remain concerned. Once you scare them, it 
seems almost impossible to unscare them.
    I believe the moral of this story is that if we wish to diminish public fear 
of radiation we should start by somehow desensitizing radiation detectors. 
Either that, or find a way of making people think more rationally.

Jerry Cohen

From: "GEOelectronics at netscape.com" <GEOelectronics at netscape.com>
To: radsafe at health.phys.iit.edu
Sent: Sat, March 19, 2011 3:47:00 PM
Subject: [ RadSafe ] I-131 in milk and activity on spinach around Fukushima

Dewey, from CNN-

"Tainted milk was found 30 kilometers (18 1/2 miles) from the plant and spinach 
was collected as far as 100 kilometers (65 miles) to the south, almost halfway 
to Tokyo."

"Very small amounts -- far below the level of concern -- of radioactive iodine 
were also detected in tap water in Tokyo and most prefectures near the Fukushima 
Daiichi plant damaged by last week's monster earthquake and tsunami"

George Dowell

Netscape.  Just the Net You Need.
You are currently subscribed to the RadSafe mailing list

Before posting a message to RadSafe be sure to have read and understood the 
RadSafe rules. These can be found at: 

For information on how to subscribe or unsubscribe and other settings visit: 

More information about the RadSafe mailing list