23 Mar 2011

Tokyo tap water declared unsafe for babies

Japanese authorities advise that infants should only drink bottled water after the detection of more than twice the safe level of radioactive iodine in the Tokyo water supply.

Tokyo residents warned to give babies bottled water after radiation at unsafe levels discovered in tap water

Tap water in Tokyo has been declared unsafe for babies – after high levels of radiation were discovered.

Authorities in the Japanese capital said tests on water in a purification plant had found 210 bequerels of iodine-131 per 1kg of tap water – more twice the safe level of radioactive iodine for infants.

The city’s governor. Shintaro Ishihara insisted there was no immediate risk to most of the population. But he said, “for infants under age one, I would like them to refrain from using tap water to dilute baby formula.”

Residents living in the surrounding area have already been told not to drink tap water because of the high levels of radioactive iodine, which can cause thyroid cancer if it’s ingested in large quantities.

Bottled water sold out

After this latest announcement – the Financial Times reported that Tokyo supermarkets have sold out of bottled water and have been limiting customers to three bottles each. Another supermarket popular with foreign residents said it had sold out of water supplies within an hour.

Japan’s chief cabinet secretary, Yukio Edano, said the water would only pose a threat to health if it were consumed over a long period – but most people are keen to take extra precautions. Mr Edano added that “unfortunately, there is no question that radioactive substances are leaking into the atmosphere from the Fukushima nuclear plant. Since it rained, it is possible that there will be an impact in many areas.”

First of all the good news from Japan - although I have to warn you that the goodness rather goes off in the course of this blog.

As ever, our amazing fixer Hiro thought she had a good story this morning. She did.

How about this? A Japanese nuclear power station damaged by the quake and tsunami which is being used to take evacuees in - rather that evacuate from.

Read more from Alex Thomson - Japanese nuclear power: friend or foe?

Some food products grown in the area – like milk and some green vegetables – have also been found to be contaminated: Japan’s prime minister has urged people not to eat around a dozen products grown or produced in the region.

It’s not just the immediate area around the power station that’s been affected so far – abnormal levels of radioactive iodine and caesium have also been detected in neighbouring districts.

That prompted the US Food and Drug Administration to stop all imports of dairy products, vegetable and fruit from four prefectures near the Fukushima plant – Hong Kong has just followed suit – and South Korea could be next. Germany has ordered extra checks on all Japanese imports, while France has also asked the European Union to consider a common response.

Japan’s now estimated that the cost of the damage caused by the earthquake and the tsumani could rise to more than $300 billion – which would make it the world’s most expensive natural disaster.

“It’s very easy from here to say ‘Don’t get worried about it’, but it’s not a significant radiation risk if you take a relatively small amount of this water.” Dr Jim Smith

Dr Jim Smith, a reader at the School of Earth and Environmental Sciences at the University of Portsmouth told Channel 4 News that, despite the increased radiation levels in Tokyo tap water, he believed the city’s residents face no long-term health effects.

“I can understand people in Tokyo would be worried. I have an eight week old and a two year old at home. If I was in Tokyo I would be trying to get bottled water for them, but if you can’t it’s not something you should try and stress about too much,” he said.

“It’s very easy from here to say ‘Don’t get worried about it’, but it’s not a significant radiation risk if you take a relatively small amount of this water.

“Radioactive iodine has an eight and a half day half life. So that means that over approximately eight days the amount in the environment declines by one half. So I would expect the levels are already declining and will be declining significantly over the next few weeks.