Testing drinking water sample for radiation from Japan

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johnvan's picture
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Testing drinking water sample for radiation from Japan

I'm an Airline Pilot that would like to test the water at our layover hotel in Narita, Japan. I've contacted a lab back home in Florida and they requested 3 liters for the test. I would just like to see if the water is safe there. Any pointers on what to look for in the results after I have the test done? Thanks.

Mr_Potatohead's picture
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Joined: Feb 22 2014
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Pointers about testing water

As a professional chemist, I regularly have been asked whether I could analyze something.  The answer always is "yes", but most people don't go any further because they are discouraged by my follow-up questions.  Analyzing something is only part of the challenge. The other key parts are deciding what to analyze for, how to do the analysis cost effectively, and then interpreting the results for the analysis.  If you are interested in determining whether the water from Japan contains radioactive contaminants, you'll need to focus on this issue.  Do not simply ask the company to analyze the water unless you want to pay for lots of unnecessary tests.  My suggestion would be to contact a local company that does well inspections for homes.  This will be the cheapest way to start.  Request a "gross alpha" test, which will measure the total amount of alpha radiation from all contaminants. Be frank with the company about where the water came from and what you are doing.  If they won't do it, find another.  My guess is that you'll need a lot less than 3 liters.  If the results come back okay, the water is okay.  If the results come back high - esp very high, additional testing could be explored to determine which elements are present.  This gets expensive quickly, and it NEVER proves where the elements came from. 

In the meantime, the following URL might be helpful --> http://www.epa.gov/radtown/well-water.html#protect_yourself

TechGuy's picture
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"I'm an Airline Pilot that

"I'm an Airline Pilot that would like to test the water at our layover hotel in Narita, Japan. I've contacted a lab back home in Florida and they requested 3 liters for the test. I would just like to see if the water is safe there"

If you want to test the water for radiation, you will need to send the test sample to a lab that specializes radiation contamination. Labs that tests for water containmation usually test for chemical contaminents and may not have the special equipment for radioactive contamination.

For your reference, Here is a brief summary of how food and water is tested for radiation. The information I am providing is incomplete since the topic of radiation testing is complex, but hopefully this will provide sufficient information to get started.

Food and water is tested with a HPGE detector (High-purity Germanium). which is expensive to operate since it need liquid nitrogen to operate. The setup for a HPE system measures the gamma energy emitted by the contaminated substances. Each radio-isotope will have a different signiture that can be used to determine which isotopes are present. Generally Labs look for Cesium and Strontium isotopes. A typical test using a HPGe system may run for a full day or more since its stastical analysis by counting up the number if detected hits each individual energy level emission. No detect is 100% efficient so it can take days to collect sufficient data to produce an accurrate report.  Below is a sample MCA (Multichannel analyzer chart showing Alaskan Salmon contaimnated with Cs-137

Cs-137 contaminated Alaskan Salmon

Link to full Article: http://radwatch.berkeley.edu/salmon

note: All food and water will contain some natural radiactive isotopes, such as Potassium-40. Its important to identify selected isotopes such as Stronium and Cesium because the closely match elements that our bodies absorb and retain for very long periods such as our bones. Once these isotopes are bound up, it virtually impossible to get rid of them, and they will constantly emit ionizing radiation for decades if not beyond your lfespan, that will damage DNA, RNA and proteins that can trigger illness. 

You would want a report that provides you a list of radioactive isotopes and the number of Becquerels per liter that are present. Its difficult to provide a safe limit since it paritally depends on how much consumption. For instance, consumption of a small amount of contaiminated water with a small amount of radio-isotopes, is better than long term consumption of contaminated water with a tiny amount. This is because consuming a tiny amount over a long period will be cumilative. 

Unfortunately I have not studied the amount of containmenation would be acceptable. In my opinion the best option is to avoid consumption of contaminated water and foods. I already stopped consuming all seafood and imported food from Asia to be safe. 

You may have some limited success with water filteration systems, but I don't believe these will be very effective since these isotopes are typically water soluble and can't be effectively removed using standard filteration systems.Extreme pressure reverse Osmosis or chemical process that render contaminates insoluble are required to efficiently fither them out.

That said the filterations system may be usefully in removing other containments, since the tsumumi make have breached in land to containmenate reservoirs that had become contaminated with domestic and industrial chemical. I see no reason not to use basic water filteration tools to help minimize your exposure to other harmful toxins.

My only recommendation would to seek employment away from Japan and China. No job is worth the risk of getting sick. Even if the regions was not contaminated by Fukishima, China is agressively pollutiing the are and water in the region. Consider that the coal China is burning, is releasing a large amount of uranium and other radioactive isotopes as Coal typically has some uranium contamination, ans when its burned without particulate scrubbers (as in China) it releases Uranium in the ash into the atmosphere. Coal also contains Mercury, Lead and other heavy metals too.


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