Tags: AS | Japan | Earthquake | Food | Fears

Japanese Villagers Told Not to Drink Tap Water

Sunday, 20 Mar 2011 02:08 PM

 

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TOKYO (AP) — Japan's Health Ministry says it has advised a village near a crippled nuclear plant not to drink tap water due to elevated levels of radioactive iodine.

Ministry spokesman Takayuki Matsuda said Sunday that radioactive iodine three times the normal level was detected in Iitate, a village of about 6,000 people 30 kilometers (19 miles) northwest of the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear plant. That's still one twenty-sixth of the level of a chest X-ray and poses no danger to humans, he said.

A health scare was sparked this weekend when officials said they had found traces of radiation in the water supply in Tokyo and other parts of Japan, as well as in spinach and milk. They also said there were tiny amounts in chrysanthemum greens and canola.

THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. Check back soon for further information. AP's earlier story is below.

TOKYO (AP) — At a bustling Tokyo supermarket Sunday, wary shoppers avoided one particular bin of spinach.

The produce came from Ibaraki prefecture in the northeast, where radiation was found in spinach grown up to 75 miles (120 kilometers) from the crippled Fukushima nuclear plant. Another bin of spinach — labeled as being from Chiba prefecture, west of Tokyo — was sold out.

"It's a little hard to say this, but I won't buy vegetables from Fukushima and that area," said shopper Yukihiro Sato, 75.

From corner stores to Tokyo's vast Tsukiji fish market, Japanese shoppers picked groceries with care Sunday after the discovery of contamination in spinach and milk fanned fears about the safety of this crowded country's food supply.

The anxiety added to the spreading impact of the unfolding nuclear crisis triggered when the March 11 tsunami battered the Fukushima complex, wrecking its cooling system and leading to the release of radioactive material.

On Sunday, the government banned shipments of milk from one area and spinach from another and said it found contamination on two more vegetables — canola and chrysanthemum greens — and in three more prefectures.

There were no signs Sunday of the panic buying that stripped Tokyo supermarkets of food last week. Instead, shoppers scrutinized the source of items and tried to avoid what they worried might be tainted.

Mayumi Mizutani was shopping for bottled water, saying she was worried about the health of her visiting 2-year-old grandchild after a tiny amount of radioactive iodine was found in Tokyo's tap water. She expressed fears that the toddler could possibly get cancer.

"That's why I'm going to use this water as much as possible," she said.

The government said the level of radiation detected on spinach and milk was minuscule and should be no threat to health. Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano said he had received no reports that would require special measures to be taken regarding tap water.

Tainted milk was found 20 miles (30 kilometers) from the plant on Saturday, a local official said. Spinach was collected from six farms between 60 miles (100 kilometers) and 75 miles (120 kilometers) to the south of the reactors.

On Sunday, authorities found contamination at additional farms in Fukushima and on vegetables in Chiba, Gunma and Tochigi prefectures, said Yoshifumi Kaji, director of the health ministry's inspection and safety division. He said it was possible some tainted foods already have been sold.

Authorities expect to decide by Tuesday on a comprehensive plan to limit food shipments from affected areas, Kaji said at a news conference.

Farmers and merchants expressed fears of their own that public anxiety might hurt even producers of goods that were free of contamination.

"There will probably be damaging rumors," said farmer Shizuko Kohata, 60, who was evacuated from the town of Futaba, near the Fukushima complex, to a sports arena in Saitama, north of Tokyo.

"I grow things and I'm worried about whether I can make it in the future," Kohata said Saturday.

Chiyoko Kaizuka, who with family members farms spinach, broccoli, onions, rice and other crops on 20 hectares (49 acres) in Ibaraki prefecture northeast of Tokyo, said the combination of earthquakes and fears of radiation have her on edge.

"I don't know what effect the radiation will have, but it's impossible to farm," the 83-year-old Kaizuka said Sunday as she stood along a row of fresh, unpicked spinach that was ready to go but now can't be shipped.

On Sunday, an official of Taiwan's Atomic Energy Council said radiation was detected on fava beans imported from Japan, although in an amount that was too low to harm human health. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he is not authorized to deal with the press.

Japan's food exports are worth about $3.3 billion a year — less than 0.5 percent of its total exports — and seafood makes up 45 percent of that, according to government data.

Experts at the World Health Organization and Food and Agriculture Organization were working Sunday to gather more facts to assess the situation, but an FAO spokesman in Rome said that the picture was not yet clear enough for them to release any specific recommendations.

However, the agencies praised the Japanese government for taking steps to test foods and monitor exports for radiation contamination.

In Tokyo, others said they weren't concerned and put the crisis in perspective with other calamities.

"I experienced the war, so if there is enough food for a day or two, I feel we can get by," said Nagako Mizuno, 73, originally from Iwaki, a city in the quake zone, but has lived in Tokyo for 40 years.

"You can't go on living if you worry about it," she said. "It's all the same if everybody ends up dying. I'm not concerned."

Fears of radioactive contamination hurt sales at the Tsukiji market, a vast maze of aisles where merchants at hundreds of stalls sell tuna, octopus and other fish fresh off the boat. The market was unusually quiet over the weekend, a time when it is normally packed with shoppers and tourists.

Traders have been hit hard by power cuts and an exodus of foreigners, and they worry about long-term damage from public fears over possible contamination of fish stocks.

"The impact would last long, like a decade, because people would not eat fish," said merchant Mamoru Saito, 72.

The market had plenty of fresh fish despite the destruction of much of Japan's northeastern fishing fleet in the tsunami. Whole fish and shellfish were laid out on wooden tables washed by a flow of cold water. Fishmongers sawed slabs of frozen tuna into steaks.

At a restaurant adjacent to the market, sushi chef Hideo Ishigami said the nuclear scare and transportation disruptions due to power cuts have cost him business.

"I have a massive drop in the number of customers," said Ishigami, 72.

___

Associated Press writers Mari Yamaguchi and Elaine Kurtenbach in Tokyo, Debby Wu in Taipei, Taiwan and Margie Mason in Hanoi, Vietnam contributed to this report.

© Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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