An article by Rob Edwards in the New Scientist (12.10.04) points to thousands of tonnes of shellfish from NW England and SW Scotland being likely to exceed newly proposed international safety limits for radioactivity in food. The UK Food Standards Agency (FSA) has warned such foods could be banned.
Lobsters, cockles and scallops are so contaminated by Sellafield’s plutonium sea discharges that they will breach limits due to be introduced by the United Nations in 2005. The UN’s ‘Codex Alimentarius Commission’ – which brings together the World Health Organization and the Food and Agriculture Organisation – is proposing a safety limit for plutonium in food of one becquerel per kilogram (1Bq/kg). The aim is to reduce the long-term risk of getting cancer from eating these foods to below one in a million.
The proposal takes into account emerging scientific uncertainties about the health risks of small amounts of plutonium inside the body and is in line with radiation safety limits recommended by other regulatory authorities internationally, in the US and in the UK.
Later this month a Government Committee Examining Radiation Risk of Internal Emitters (CERRIE) will publish its final report. In the Final Report, a copy of which was leaked to CORE, Committee members agree that the ICRP (International Committee of Radiological Protection) models could be wrong by a factor of well over 10 in the case of Plutonium and Americium (a decay product of Plutonium) in the body.
Whilst the new UN limits are welcomed by radiation experts, they are regarded as “not proportionate to the actual risk” by the FSA. and have angered the multi-million pound shellfishing industry in the area which exports mainly to Spain, France and the Netherlands. However, Ian Jackson, a radiation consultant from Cheshire, thinks the proposed new limit “reasonable” and though the new safety limit would have a major economic impact for Cumbria, Jim Andrews from the NW England Fisheries Committee, a regulatory authority, said that “If there is a risk to public health that has got to come first.”
Speaking for CORE, campaigner Janine Allis-Smith said: “We welcome this new law and wholeheartedly endorse the view that the health of the public must come first. We have been concerned about plutonium in our food and its possible effect on our health for a long time, particularly as in studies by the Westlakes Research Institute, the radiation dose to the Cumbrian ‘critical seafood consumer group’ from Americium has been rising annually.
The most recent Ministry report (Radioactivity in Food and the Environment, 2003 – RIFE8) shows plutonium contamination levels in Cumbria’s whelks and cockles far in excess of the proposed limit. Whilst local West Cumbrian winkles are shown to average around 100 times greater than this limit, those from St. Bees and Nethertown show significantly higher levels – over 200 times the proposed 1Bq/kg limit. – 260Bq/kg and 210 Bk/kg respectively. Figures for Morecambe Bay and the Solway area show that whilst cockles and whelks are less contaminated than their West Cumbrian counterparts, they too would be outlawed by the UN.
Janine Allis-Smith added: ” The blame for seafood contamination lies squarely with Sellafield’s reprocessing discharges. Its now up to the Nuclear Decommissioning Agency to put an end to this uneconomic, unnecessary and polluting operation without delay “