ST. PAUL, Minn. (WCCO) — In the radiation testing laboratory at the Minnesota Department of Health, environmental chemists are keeping close watch for any suspicious radioactive spikes.
“We do monitor on a very routine basis,” said MDH spokesman Doug Schulz.
In four lead-lined containers, which look very much like heavy barrels with split tops that pivot open, the scientists will place samples of air, water, milk and even vegetation. Inside is sophisticated gamma radiation detection equipment that will spit out results on a nearby computer screen.
The department’s routine sampling is done to monitor potential radioactive leaks from Minnesota’s two nuclear power plants. But suddenly, with the nuclear crisis continuing to release high levels of radioactivity in Japan, monitoring here takes on new urgency.
Slightly higher radiation levels have already been found in California, Washington and Massachusetts.
On March 22, a single air sample taken from a monitoring site in St. Paul revealed a slightly elevated radioactive level. But health officials reassure the public that it was too little to cause any alarm.
“No, we’re talking about a level that would be thousands of times less than the amount of energy you would get from a chest X-ray,” said Schulz
Meantime, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration are stepping up monitoring of Japanese food imports — particularly seafood. It has also taken steps to increase radiologic testing of milk, precipitation, drinking water and other potential exposures.
If that monitoring reveals more radioactive spikes, something health officials say is unlikely, Minnesota’s radiologic surveillance could be expanded.
“If we have another detectable reading we might consider, just to be proactive and be very cautious about this, we might consider sampling more often,” said Schulz.
For more information on the state’s radiologic testing program and sampling results the Minnesota Department of Health has devoted a special section explaining the program on its website. Just click here for more information.