Health Canada is citing two separate series of radiation tests on B.C. fish -along with ongoing ocean monitoring -as reasons why regular domestic seafood testing is not warranted in the wake of the Fukushima nuclear accident.
"What we've seen so far presents no health risk," Health Canada senior media relations officer Sean Upton said Wednesday. "If increased radiation is found in the waters in 2014 or 2015, then more testing would be done, as needed. We know there's going to be radiation from Fukushima for years to come. The testing will never stop."
Upton said Health Canada scientists tested 28 fish samples provided last year by the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) and no radiation from Fukushima was detected in any of the specimens.
While the testing was not part of a formal research study, and was described by Health Canada as an ad hoc technical exercise, Upton said it was also linked to research on the transport of Fukushima radiation to B.C. coastal waters, first measured by DFO at "barely detectable" levels in June 2013.
"It was done post-Fukushima and partly because there was a hypothesis that radiation from Fukushima was making its way to the West Coast and West Coast fish," Upton said.
More analysis will be done on the same fish in the spring and "there are plans to share the results publicly in the near future in a small technical note."
Health Canada is also pointing to a separate series of tests, conducted each year since the March 2011 triple meltdown, on Pacific troll-caught albacore tuna samples.
Those tests, commissioned by the Canadian Highly Migratory Species Foundation, a non-profit industry-based group headquartered in Victoria, also detected no radiation in any of the samples.
Foundation executive director Lorne Clayton said last year's sub-sample was caught randomly off the B.C. coast in August and sent to the Saskatchewan Research Council's analytical laboratories in Saskatoon, with the results showing "no residues detected at the lowest detection limits achievable for gamma spectroscopy."
Clayton said his group, which also tested 2010 pre-Fukushima samples from storage to establish baseline data, plans to test B.C. albacore tuna again this year.
"Our plan is to continue doing this until there is no longer a problem. It's on our to-do list, for sure," he said.
Health Canada said it is also collaborating with DFO and reviewed the two study models presented last October at an international ocean science symposium in Nanaimo, predicting the transport of cesium-137 from Fukushima to the eastern Pacific. "In both cases, estimates of peak levels of cesium-137 on Canada's west coast are far below Health Canada's guidelines for radiation in drinking water and in food."
The department is also reviewing DFO's ocean monitoring data, which so far indicates that radiation levels from Fukushima "are very low and any current contamination in water or in fish off the West Coast is far below" the same guidelines.
Apart from testing and monitoring DFO data, Health Canada cited findings by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency and "reputable organizations" such as the International Atomic Energy Agency and Japan's Nuclear Regulation Authority.
Health Canada also quoted an article by one of its scientists, Jing Chen, based on July 2013 monitoring data from Japan and published in the journal Radiation Protection Dosimetry.
In the article, Chen concluded that owing to dilution, migration patterns and the low biological half-life of cesium in fish, the level in fish caught outside of Japan is most likely undetectable.
"If it were detected, it would be significantly below any public health concern, even for individuals with high seafood consumption," Chen wrote.
Health Canada said Chen's conclusion "is supported by all sampling of domestic fish to date."
Earlier this month, Grand Chief Stewart Phillip of the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs joined other First Nation leaders in calling for Ottawa to start conducting regular testing of domestic Pacific seafood.
Upton said Health Canada has been receiving calls from B.C. First Nation people, including one recently from a man who asked whether candlefish was safe to eat.
"I told him, 'There's no reason not to eat candlefish,'" Upton said.
While regular testing is not being contemplated at this time, that will change if circumstances warrant it, he said.
"In the unlikely event that radiation levels in the ocean resulting from leaks from the Fukushima nuclear power plant become a concern, Health Canada would promptly notify the public health authorities (including provincial authorities) of the situation and provide guidance on how best to address the issue/concern," the department said. "Further, Health Canada would increase its own radiation monitoring of air and precipitation, and collaborate with its federal partners to support increased food and ocean water monitoring, as needed."
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