I felt pretty good Tuesday evening after getting off the phone with Robin Brown, head of the ocean sciences division of the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans, based in Sidney, B.C.
Brown, who co-authored a DFO report last year tracking the movement of Fukushima radiation to the West Coast, sounded very reasonable and reassuring when he said radiation levels detected so far were nothing to worry about from a human health standpoint.
“I’m still eating sushi. I’m still eating salmon. I’m not selling my house and moving to the Prairies,” he told me. “But I’m out in the community and I know people are concerned.”
Brown said he felt sorry for people. “There is so much scary misinformation available on the web. I know people are frightened by this.”
One of the reasons people are afraid, of course, is that governments are not telling us much at all about the spread of radiation from Japan or its impacts on the environment. That’s why I was encouraged when I talked to Brown. He said Health Canada was doing some testing on marine life for radiation levels, measuring concentrations in fish.
That’s what First Nation leaders are calling for, and I thought it was a positive development.
The next day I tried tracking down the Health Canada contact that Brown gave me, who is the director of the department’s Radiation Protection Bureau in Ottawa.
Instead of getting a scientist, I got a communications officer, who redirected me to the Canadian Food Inspection Agency. There, another communications officer responded with an emailed statement that said Canada has not been testing marine life for radiation since early 2012 because “it is not required.”
After hearing from Brown that Fukushima radiation was first detected in B.C. coastal waters in June 2013, the lack of testing — or official lack of testing — seemed profoundly negligent. A lot of my good feelings vanished.
And the more I thought about Brown’s sanguine attitude, the less convinced I became.
It’s all about data. When I asked Brown about radioactive isotopes that are more deadly and long-lasting than cesium, he said: “Plutonium, of course, is terrible stuff, but the data I saw said it wasn’t released in very large volume.” He said plutonium, when it hits seawater, “will end up in the sediment,” while “cesium stays dissolved and sticks to particles but doesn’t sediment out.”
In other words, the plutonium is really Japan’s problem. Based on the data.
But how good is the data? It took Japan’s power company about two months to admit that three reactors had melted down in March 2011 and more than two years to admit that radioactive water had been flowing into the Pacific on a daily basis.
The data often seems to be behind the times and severely understated.
That’s why Canada’s government owes it to the citizens of this country to provide the most accurate data that’s out there, perform rigorous testing and be transparent about the results.
Every Canadian should back B.C.’s First Nation leaders on this one.