Thursday, March 24, 2011
RADIATION RISKS FOR PREGNANT WOMEN IN TOKYO AND NEARBY
The good news today is that radiation levels in Tokyo are slightly down from yesterday. But they are still many times what they should be. We can't really be sure just how high radiation is in Japan's food and water. But we do know that soil, irrigation canals, drinking water systems and growing crops, grass and food animals as much as 100km away from the affected Fukushima power plant are picking up radioactive iodine and other contaminants such as caesium 134 and 137. And, we also know that at least some radiation-contaminated food and water is even reaching Tokyo.
Japan's Ministry of Health has warned about risks for infants, but has not issued warnings for pregnant and nursing women. They should have. Pregnant women also take up more iodine-131 and this dangerous substance does cross the placenta to the fetus. Animal testing and studies of human atomic bombing victims and those exposed by incidents like Chernobyl have shown that such iodine may have disasterous effects on the fetus. It can not only cause childhood cancers, but also miscarriages, malformations (such as neurological and motor problems), growth retardation, reduction in IQ and even mental retardation.
Two main risk factors are: the radiation dose, including whether it is acute ( a single dose) or chronic (small doses over time) and the stage of pregnancy when exposed. Exposure during the first trimester is the most serious. Pregnant women need to take extra precautions to avoid exposure to radiation from any source. That includes food and water.
If there is a shortage of bottled water in the home, priority needs to be given to the pregnant woman. She should also be careful what fresh milk she drinks and what vegetables and fruits she eats. This might be a good time to resort to tinned and powdered milk and to tinned and frozen produce, on the assumption that these were produced before the recent tragic earthquake, tsunami and associated nuclear power incident.