UN nuclear watchdog IAEA warned Saturday of the risks to humans of ingesting contaminated food products, after Japan said it had detected abnormal levels of radioactivity in milk and spinach. Japan’s health ministry had confirmed that the substance found in higher-than-usual doses in foods near the quake-damaged Fukushima No.1 plant northeast of Tokyo was radioactive iodine, the International Atomic Energy Agency said in a statement.
“Though radioactive iodine has a short half-life of about eight days and decays naturally within a matter of weeks, there is a short-term risk to human health if radioactive iodine in food is absorbed into the human body,” the Vienna-based body warned.
“If ingested, it can accumulate in and cause damage to the thyroid.” “Children and young people are particularly at risk of thyroid damage due to the ingestion of radioactive iodine,” it added.
Taking stable iodine — as opposed to radioactive iodine — tablets could however help prevent the harmful substance from accumulating in the thyroid, the watchdog said, noting that Japanese authorities had recommended evacuees from the plant’s vicinity to take these precautions and that tablets and syrups had been distributed in evacuation centres around Japan.
No other radioactive isotopes had been found in food products in unusual doses, it added. Japan announced earlier Saturday that it had detected abnormal levels of radiation in milk and spinach near the nuclear plant, which was critically damaged after last week’s earthquake and tsunami, sending radioactive substances into the air.