KSBY Investigates: Radiation on the Central Coast - KSBY.com | San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara Area News

KSBY Investigates: Radiation on the Central Coast

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Ever since the disastrous earthquake in Japan in 2011, some people have been concerned about radiation from the Fukushima nuclear power plant traveling to the west coast of the United States. KSBY went out to investigate if any of that radiation has made it to our Central Coast beaches.

On popular video websites, like YouTube, there are multiple videos that show people allegedly using a Geiger counter to measure radiation on California beaches. In our investigation, KSBY attempted to make contact with the makers of a video entitled that's captured nearly 800,000 views, but to no avail.

KSBY went out with a San Luis Obispo County Environmental Health Specialist to Avila Beach. Jeremiah Damrey, a Health Specialist III, brought out a Geiger counter to demonstrate how it works and what it does.

He said, "To give it time to adjust, you would stand still. You just stay stationary."

The Geiger counter measures how much radiation there is, depending on what you point it at. In this case, we measured how much radiation there was in the sand at Avila Beach.

Reporter Connie Tran went with Damrey for the testing. She noticed, "In this very spot, it's a 6.4."

Damrey said the baseline, or typical measurement for beaches in SLO County is 10 to 25 micro roentgens per hour.

"And if it were three times that, so if it were 70 or above, then we would consider that contaminated," said Damrey.

So KSBY wanted to know, are the numbers we see in those Internet videos accurate?

Rich Lichtenfels, the Supervising Environmental Health Specialist with SLO County argued, "You know, there's a lot of misinformation on the Internet. We see a lot of sensationalistic type articles on the Internet, and it's not correct."

Lichtenfels said he believed those Internet videos are nothing but scare tactics.

"There are some sands on the beaches that they (makers of Internet videos) were referring to that are actually a little higher in radioactivity. But, it wasn't from Fukushima. It was a different isotope. It wasn't Cesium," said Damrey.

Cesium-137 is the radioactive material from nuclear power plants like Fukushima.

However, in our investigation, we have learned there have been trace amounts of Cesium-137 on Central Coast beaches since the Fukushima disaster three years ago. A direct result from the meltdown. However, according to county health officials, there's no need to panic.

"All the testing that's been done so far shows that the levels are extremely low. Not even close to being a public health problem. So, that's encouraging. So, we're happy about that, but again, just to be cautious, we're going to be sure we check anything that arrives on our beach that is significant size. Litter and things like that. And small items. We're not really worried about," said Lichtenfels.

Jimmy Diaz is an Imaging Services Manager for Sierra Vista Regional Medical Center in San Luis Obispo. He works with x-rays at the hospital. He said there is absolutely no harm in being exposed to small amounts of any kind of radiation. Diaz said there's radiation everywhere- natural radiation from land, air, and hospitals.

Diaz said, "A chest x-ray is typically about .2 millisievert, which is how they measure exposure. And it takes about two and half days to completely recover from that."

But, Diaz warns: too much radiation focused on one area of your body at one time, can of course be harmful.

"You would have redding of the skin. The next thing after that would be hair loss. Your eyes are very susceptible to it. It can cause cataracts," said Diaz.

So, for wide open beaches like ours, Damrey said, it would be extremely difficult to be exposed to that level of radiation, even if you did find something directly from Fukushima washed on shore.

Damrey said, "You could be concerned. I mean, you could think about it. I mean, things could, last year there was one thing that washed up. A little, I think it was a little soap bottle that could've been from Fukushima. There was some Japanese writing on it. I don't know if you remember that or not. And that's, I think that's the only thing we've had is a little tiny soap bottle and it was not contaminated. And, most experts don't expect the material, the debris, if it washes up, they don't expect it to be contaminated."

County officials ask that if you ever notice anything strange wash ashore, be sure to call local authorities. From there, they said, Environmental Health Services will get called out to take measurements to see if there's radioactive material.

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