Radiation found in Pa. rainwater ‘not a threat’

    Radioactive material from Japan’s crippled Fukushima nuclear power plant has traveled around the world. Now, it’s been detected in Pennsylvania rainwater.

    State and federal officials insist the low levels of Iodine-131 don’t pose a public health threat. Nevertheless, Department of Environmental Protection inspectors spent the weekend testing drinking water.

    “Public water samples were taken from facilities in Norristown, East Stroudsburg, Harrisburg, Williamsport, Greenville and Pittsburgh,” said Gov. Tom Corbett at a Harrisburg press conference. “After repeated testing throughout the weekend, results were within normal levels, in the single digits, and below the federal level. The bottom line is our public drinking water is safe.”

    The radioactive element was discovered in Massachusetts, California and Washington rainwater, as well. In Pennsylvania, the Iodine-131 was 25 times below the federally set “level of concern.”

    “Taking potassium iodide is absolutely unnecessary under these circumstances, and could cause harmful side effects,” Corbett said. “Although usually harmless, it can present a danger to people with allergies to iodine or shellfish, or those who have thyroid problems.” Pharmacies across the country have reported increased sales of the emergency pills since Japan’s nuclear crisis began.

    An Environmental Protection Agency statement on the rainwater test said, “While short-term elevations such as these do not raise public health concerns–and the levels seen in rainwater are expected to be relatively short in duration–the EPA has taken steps to increase the level of nationwide monitoring of precipitation, drinking water, and other potential exposure routes to continue to verify that. EPA’s only recommendation to state and local governments is to continue to coordinate closely with EPA, CDC and FDA–EPA will continue to communicate our nationwide sampling results as they come in.”

    Corbett said the state will stay in contact with the EPA, Nuclear Regulatory Commission and other federal agencies, as water tests continue.

    Corbett noted the radiation announcement came on the 32nd anniversary of Pennsylvania’s Three Mile Island nuclear accident.

    “The lessons we learned from that incident and the safeguards that were installed, including constant monitoring, have made us better prepared for situations like this,” he said.

    Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

    It will take 126,000 members this year for great news and programs to thrive. Help us get to 100% of the goal.