As federal and state officials continued Wednesday to issue assurances that there was little risk to public health in North America from the nuclear crisis in Japan, the EPA announced it was stepping up its monitoring capability in Alaska, Hawaii and Guam.
Three deployable monitors will be placed in Alaska to broaden the EPA's fixed station coverage already in place in Anchorage, Fairbanks and Juneau. State officials who assist the EPA with that equipment say they haven't detected any elevated radiation from the crippled reactors and spent-fuel storage facilities.
Naturally occurring uranium, radium, radon and other radioactive elements in local dust and the air, along with gamma radiation from the sun and interstellar space, generate a normal range of background readings on the monitors, said Bernd Jilly, laboratory director for the state health department. As a general rule, public health officials get concerned if those levels rise to 40 times the normal high-end background level, he said. So far, readings on the Anchorage monitor, stationed on a building roof near Midtown, are within normal range, he said.
"We are continually monitoring the air in Anchorage," Jilly said. "If there is any significant increase in the amount of radiation we will certainly effect notifying our partners and activating the whole cascade of emergency response. Until that happens, everything is running normally and we are examining our data a couple times a day just to make sure we're ahead of the curve."
The EPA announcement of the additional monitors set off some confusion, since it said one of the deployable monitors would be placed in Juneau. The state Department of Environmental Conservation already manages a fixed monitor in Juneau on behalf of the EPA, said DEC spokesman Ty Keltner. While technicians had been adjusting the Juneau device in recent weeks, it's functioning properly, he said.
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