Monday, April 9, 2012

#Radioactive Japan: New Cesium Safety Limit - What New Cesium Safety Limit?

No matter how the government tweak the safety limits for radioactive cesium in food items, the public are left fending for themselves after all.

First, if you don't measure it, you won't know it.

Chiba Prefecture says it has just found out that fresh shiitake mushrooms sold at an unmanned farm stand had 740 becquerels/kg of radioactive cesium. The mushrooms have already been consumed. The prefectural government assures us that the amount is small, and there will be "no immediate, direct" consequence on health.

As if all cesium people ingest is from this shiitake crop.

From Jiji Tsushin (4/9/2012):


740 becquerels from Shiitake sold at an unmanned farm stand in Chiba, already sold and consumed


Chiba Prefecture announced on April 9 that shiitake mushrooms cultivated outdoors in Shirai City were found with 740 becquerels/kg of radioactive cesium, exceeding the safety limit of 100 becquerels/kg [notice it is not provisional anymore; it's permanent]. The farmer had already sold 4 kilograms of these mushrooms, and all had been consumed. The prefectural government requested the city to voluntarily halt shipment.


The prefectural government says, "The amount of consumption and the amount of radioactivity are not so great, so it is inconceivable that there will be an immediate, direct damage."

The old, provisional safety limit was 500 becquerels/kg, and the radioactivity of these mushrooms even exceeded the old level. And the same old "requesting voluntary halt" to save money. (Voluntary action is not compensated by the government.)

Second, if you change testing methodology, voila, it is below the safety limit.

Ibaraki Prefecture is one of the prefectures in northern Kanto region whose teas tested above the provisional safety limit of 500 becquerels/kg last year. But now, the national government has changed the rule for teas. Teas are to be tested after they are brewed. So unless the tea has over 1,000 bequerels/kg of cesium, the brewed tea (liquid) will be well below 10 becquerels/kg (new safety limit for water).

From Jiji Tsushin (4/9/2012):


Restriction lifted from the spring "bancha" tea from Daigo, Ibaraki Prefecture, as the amount of radioactive cesium is below the safety limit, says the national government


The national government lifted the restriction on shipment of the spring "bancha" tea from Daigo-machi in Ibaraki Prefecture on Spril 9, as the amount of radioactive cesium was below the safety limit (10 becquerels/kg in brewed tea) in three locations tested.


The shipment of tea from Daigo was halted when radioactive cesium exceeding the provisional safety limit (500 becquerels/kg) was found from fresh tea leaves in June last year.

I went to the Ibaraki Prefecture's website to look for the original data. The data does include the measurement of radioactive cesium the "old way" - measuring the dried tea leaves. If the old way of applying the safety limit on the dried leaves, there are many teas that easily exceed the new safety limit.

From Ibaraki Prefecture's test result, the top red bracket shows the measurement of cesium in "aracha" tea (bulk tea before blending) from Daigo-machi, and the bottom red bracket shows the measurement of cesium in the liquid after the tea is brewed:

Well, there are slight problems with the new way of only measuring brewed tea. There are people who "eat" tea leaves (although I doubt they still do it after the accident, but who knows). I drink "konacha", or powdered tea which is a strong, sushi-shop style green tea that is cheaper and stronger. My cup is left with green "sludge" at the bottom, which I ingest (my tea is from 2010). Many use green tea powders as health supplements.


Alessandro said...

Great article.
This poses more questions than before for a person, like me, who would like to buy some green tea from Japan (Uji, Kagoshima, Kumamoto, Yame, Ureshino) and have it shipped where he/she lives.
Who could assure me that the tea that is well under the new standard would not harm my health?

arevamirpal::laprimavera said...

Alessandro, I would suggest that you stock up teas from Uji or anywhere from Kyushu. Make sure they are single-origin, not blended, and vacuum sealed for long storage.

Who could assure you? I guess no one. Caveat emptor.

Anonymous said...

Be careful when buying items from the west. Recently JA, the agricultural union, in Kobe was found to have been blended Kobe rice with that from Iwate--90% of the blend was from Iwate. Despite this, it was labelled "Kobe-grown original rice." If you can buy tea from other tea producing countries, you might be better off.

Anonymous said...

To Anonymous at 3:11PM:

If you know, or can find out: What are the legal penalties for this type of mislabeling? Has anyone been prosecuted? And if not, who should we contact to demand justice be done?

Atomfritz said...

" unmanned farm..." just had to laugh :-) this is probably the funniest typo of the year :-)

The rest isn't funny at all.
Mixing, diluting, cheating and downplaying until it's no longer deniable.

The new "standard" measuring of liquid tea is really disgusting.
So we'll never again find a tea above limits, as tea testing probably is done with homoepathical quantities of tea.

Chibaguy said...

@Atomfritz - that is not a typo. They do have unmanned farm stands everywhere.

It would piss me off to know the rice I grew in Kobe was being mixed with rice from the north. I wonder if the farmers know this?

Anonymous said...

I live in Kyushu and was in Ureshino a while back. I speak Japanese and told a guy in a tea shop that I won't drink tea from Honshu anymore and he said that Ureshino tea is completely clean. I asked if he had it tested, his answer was "well, no, but we're far away."

While stuff from Kyushu is probably safe, I can't bring myself to drink it. I know the ground isn't contaminated but a few months ago a researcher published how he found CS134 dust in the air of Nagasaki (which isn't far from Ureshino), in April of last year. Tea plants seemed darned good at sucking it out of the air ...

arevamirpal::laprimavera said...

@anon at 7:28PM, the Nagasaki's test was an air suction test, and cannot be equated as detecting Cs in the soil of Iitate-mura, for example (but the reporting was such that it gave readers impression that Nagasaki was just as contaminated as Fukushima, which is not true.

Anonymous said...

I don't understand why people are eating mushrooms in the first place. Do they think that science doesn't apply to them? Here in the U.S. I'm trying to find out where the domestic brand green tea comes from. It doesn't say on the package. So far I've only emailed Celestial Seasonings and they gave a vague response. The origin of the tea varies too much. For now I'll drink my Japanese green tea from before the disaster.

Anonymous said...

I think green tea we find in the US supermarkets mostly come from China (it's too expensive to blend Japanese tea, at least until now). The question is which part of Chine it came from. If it is from the regions facing Japan or Pacific, I try to avoid.

Another green tea producing county is Turkey. Theirs may be clean at least for the time being.

arevamirpal::laprimavera said...

What you should worry in Chinese tea is not so much radiation but toxic chemicals and heavy metals from factory runoffs. Was Turkey contaminated when Chernobyl happened?

Australia has green tea, and Ito-en USA sells it:

I confirmed with Ito-en who said it is a single-origin tea, and not blended. The webpage says it's from Victoria.

Anonymous said...

People have to be so careful since the government refuses to be. Living in Wakayama, I feel generally ok about food produced in this prefecture and further west though we only eat the rice from my father in law's farm. We've stopped eating out and buying bentos. Anything labelled 国産 (from Japan) instead of the actual prefecture's name is suspect. I hope it won't be much longer before public pressure forces the food industry to be more transparent.

Anonymous said...

1) Yes Turkey has been contaminated quite heavily.

2) (just to say one good thing about Japan) These farmer's stands are charming, really. You just pick up what you want and put the money in the box.
At one stand, by a little stream said to make wonders - and by a temple, of course, I once spoted a different case, not for sale, just on display, or as a gift, full of strange shaped carrots, radishes, that figured male and female sexes. Someone had drawn eyes and written funny names in hiragana on the vegetables. Something to do with good luck, fertility... and humour.

Anonymous said...

@Anonymous April 9, 2012 9:36 PM

Yeah, I'm right with you. I live in Kyushu and I consider stuff produced here to be OK, but 国産 is equal to poison in my book. It's sick/sad/funny that when I ask restaurants and such where their beef, rice, and such is from they always answer "It's domestic" as if that is still a good answer.

Chibaguy said...

I agree, no 国産 nor abstract 産地. You would think they would figure this out.

arevamirpal::laprimavera said...

Last I checked, the Ministry of Health has no intention of "guiding" or "suggesting to" the industry to specify the prefectures, because it is too cumbersome for the industry as many food items are "blended".

I've seen and heard about some amusing labels on fresh food. "Caught in the Pacific Ocean" for fish, "made in Nagasaki (and in very small font, Iwate)" for fruit. It turned out the fruit was grown in a town called Nagasaki in Iwate Prefecture.

Anonymous at 3:11PM said...

Unfortunately I don't know if there are any penalties for mislabeling. This has happened quite a few times, even before Fukushima, with Chinese products labeled as Japanese, etc. As far as I know, the company just apologizes and issues a recall if the product hasn't been consumed. They then promise to conduct training with their employees to "ensure it doesn't happen again." arevamirpal::laprimavera, do you know if there is any consumer protection agency or legal measures that could be taken?

Chibaguy said...

@anon 3:11pm, as far as I know everything boils down to voluntary recall. They have laws that put certain individuals subject to imprisonment but it is just a show. No enforcement just a procedure.

Anonymous said...

at Anon 12:09 AM
yes, it's a problem. When we go to Japan, I have to rely entirely on my wife's wisdom. Fortunately I found out she's very suspicious, as much as I am. She checks the food carefully, and we gave up eating out - only at close japanese friends we know they have brains.
But it is a total mess, some people believe in Aeon, some don't, we're just not too scary because we're a bit old, and have no children with us.
Good luck you are in Kyushu.

Alessandro said...

From what I can understand here it's difficult for people living in Japan to know where a certain food comes from, let alone for me living abroad.
I generally ask the radiation certificate to accompany the tea I buy from reputable online sellers (mainly yuuki-cha, ippodo and marukyu koyamaen). I mean not the results but an actual copy of the laboratory tests.

Anonymous said...

Why would I hang around japan and see what happens?
I wouldn't that's for SOMEBODY else.
You're gonna see deaths like crazy, I am not kidding, you want to get out before it starts to be the ..... and look.... it will be bad and sad, you don't have to die japan, leave.

Anonymous said...

Considering what is happening to seals and polar bears in Alaska and US, it is not just Japan that needs to worry.

Yes, I know they said it has not been proven to be radiation but nor have they done the tests to find out.

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