What we did
Samples were collected with the help of 13 First Nations, the Department of Fisheries and Oceans and the Hakai Institute in coastal waters and rivers of western Canada at sites indicated on the map below.
For fish we removed the skin and bone to measure fillets which are typically consumed. Whole-body tissues of mussels, oysters, and clams were processed as they are generally eaten whole, but for scallops only the muscle itself was processed. In addition, we crushed up the shells of the individual shellfish to determine if radiocesium had accumulated in the shell as they are sometimes used to fertilize garden beds or adjust the hardness of rainwater used for home gardens. We measured the radiocesium and naturally occurring radioisotopes in the samples using gamma spectrometry which you can learn about here. All samples were analyzed for 6 hours to screen samples for the presence of 137Cs and a subset of 19 were counted for a further 336 hours to determine if any 134Cs was present. This represents 10110 hours (more than 421 days) of counting time.
What we found
Results of the 6 hour counts and the extended counting samples can be found in here and here respectively. Given the extremely low levels of 137Cs present in the fish tissue (almost always below our minimum detectable concentration for individual fish) we averaged the gamma emission spectra of all fish collected in each year to determine the average 137Cs content. 137Cs content of all fish samples in each year fell between 0.18 and 0.25 Bq kg-1 fresh weight with the highest average concentration in 2017 and the lowest 2015. Data are here. The challenge of measuring and quantifying the amount of 137Cs can be understood by looking at the gamma emission spectrum and the averages for each year between 2014 and 2018 in the following figure.
What the figure shows is that even after averaging the results for every fish collected in each year it was difficult for our team to detect human-made caesium isotopes. There was also no clear trend in time with 137Cs neither increasing nor decreasing with time in Pacific fish. In fact, the level of 137Cs found in the Pacific salmon was similar to levels found in Atlantic salmon (Table 4, 0.20 Bq kg-1) we collected in 2017 and analyzed from the Miramichi River on Canada’s east coast in New Brunswick. Careful analysis of 19 fish with longer counting times led us to be able to detect 2 fish with measurable levels of 134Cs which was an unmistakable sign of contamination from the FDNPP. However, given our understanding of the releases of 137Cs and 134Cs from the FDNPP following the disaster, most of the 137Cs present in the fish reflected contamination in the Pacific from nuclear weapons testing and the Chernobyl disaster rather than events following the 2011 meltdowns at FDNPP. For shellfish harvested from Canada's west coast in 2016 and 2017, spectral summation of fresh weight samples (tissue and shell, respectively) yielded no detectable radiocesium or any other anthropogenic isotopes.
What it means
From 2011 to 2018, radioactivity measurements were made by the Fukushima InFORM project of 621 fish and shellfish samples harvested from Canada's west coast. To investigate the impact of the oceanic contamination plume of Fukushima radioactivity to coastal waters, we used highly sensitive analyses and data reduction techniques to show that the concentration of 137Cs in the tissue of marine fish has not changed (0.18–0.25 Bq·kg−1 fw) from 2014 to 2018 while that of shellfish was undetectable. Relative to the abundance of naturally occurring isotopes like 210-Polonium in the same fish samples or to the annual dose exposure due to naturally occurring background radiation, it is abundantly clear that, by any metric, the radiocesium content of fish and shellfish from Canada's west coast does not constitute a health risk, despite the FDNPP accident of 2011. The ecosystem and public health on the west coast of North America was never under threat from the FDNPP accident.
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