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Cesium getting in a pickle

Dear Reader,

I am aware that a little over a year ago cesium escaped from the stricken Fukushima plant and then despoiled the farm land nearby. I think that one of the problems with radioactivity is that the “general public” do not know much about it and as you can not see it, hear it, smell it, taste it, or feel it with your normal senses the general public live in great terror of it.

I would like to point out that at very high levels (like the instant drop down dead level) people have reported that they have experienced odd sensations. I know one man who has had a “fatal” dose (a leukemia patient who got given a dose of radiation before a bone marrow transplant) who said that the radiation gave him a sore throat.

I would say that an understanding of something will dispel irrational fears and replace them with a set of rational fears. Having worked much of my adult life with and around radiation I am aware of what radiation can and can not do, for example a dose of radiation can not make me grow extra limbs but it can scorch your skin causing painful burns. Another thing which radiation can not do is to cause deterministic effects with low doses in humans (or other animals) nor can external exposure to alpha (or low energy beta) emitters cause serious damage to your innards but the alpha activity (Po-210) in cigarette smoke can cause dire damage to your lungs (Lung Cancer ? Nej Tac !).

I saw something interesting recently, it is all about cesium in meat.

J. Jandi, Josef Novosad, J. Francova and H. Prochazka in Veterinarni Medicina, 1989, 34(8), 485-490 wrote a paper about how to remove cesium from deer meat. They found that pickling meat removed much of the cesium radioactivity. A similar observation was made by R. Wahl and E. Kallee, Nature, 1986, 323, 208 where they found that a cesium contaminated roebuck deer meat could be decontaminated by soaking it in sodium chloride (common salt) solution. It is interesting to note that when the latter authors wrote up their work they commented on the taste of the meat.

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2 Responses

  1. A very interesting bit of information. Would you recommend people afraid of cesium poisoning take long salt baths? I’m thinking of epsom salts, which may not negate the cesium but would do wonders for the nerves.

    • Thanks Chris, you have raised up a good point.

      “Epsom salts” are magnesium sulphate, the magnesium sulphate will not remove cesium from a human body. It might make for a nice reflaxing bath however.

      I also do not think that a long bath in common salt (table salt) solution which is sodium chloride will do much good either. I do not think that the human body is able to exchange large amounts of salt through the skin.

      It is interesting that people who are internally contaminated with radioactive cesium produce radioactive sweet so even if you clean their skin the surface becomes radioactive again. Unless the internal contamination level is exceptionally high this is not a problem.

      As Josef et.al. showed soaking meat in salt water before cooking can lower the cesium level. The same advice has been repeated recently by Kunikazu Noguchi in Japan. I need to e-mail him to compare notes on some matters.

      I think the place where “salts” can be of most use is in farming and gardening, radioactive cesium is at its worst when the soil is low in potassium. If you dose the soil with a potassium rich fertilizer then the plants are less able to absorb the cesium. As a result the radioactivity level of the plants becomes lower and then people get less radioactive cesium in their diet.

      This method has been used on some islands in the pacific near to where the Americans let of some of their H-bombs. The soil there is a potassium poor soil which allows the cesium to transfer into the coconuts. On some islands the coconut tree area was dosed with potassium fertilizer and then the cesium content of the coconuts was lowered thus allowing people to eat a more healthy diet.

      The only problem is that fertilizers can disturb the ecology of the farmland, so sadly the potassium rich fertilizer is not a magic bullet which will solve all ills.

      I feel another blog article coming on soon on the subject of radioactivity in food. So stay tuned !

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