RADIATION DISPERSAL FROM JAPAN
NOTE: This page is archived for historical purposes and is no longer being maintained or updated.
What workers may encounter persons or items coming from Japan?
Workers in the transportation, delivery, and maritime industries may encounter persons, cargo, mail, or other packages either through airline flights returning from Japan or from cargo ships or planes that are arriving in US ports from Japan. NIOSH is unaware of any potentially hazardous levels of contamination from any of these persons or items at this time. NIOSH will work with partner agencies to closely monitor this question to assist with protecting workers.
What health and safety standards are applicable to workers exposed to radiation?
There are a number of Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) standards that may be applicable to workers exposed to radiation in their course of their duties and responsibilities. These standards include but are not limited to Ionizing Radiation, 29 CFR 1910.1096, Personal Protective Equipment, 29 CFR 1910.132-.136 & .138, and Hazardous Waste Operations and Emergency Response, 29 CFR 1910.120.
What radiation risk do the events at the nuclear reactors in Japan pose currently to workers there?
From what is currently reported, the people at greatest risk of exposure are the Japanese nuclear workers and emergency response personnel working at the Fukushima nuclear plant. Radiation exposure for the general Japanese population is likely to be at much reduced levels compared to the plant workers. However, based on current conditions, the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) has recommended that U.S. residents within 50 miles of the Fukushima reactors evacuate. This recommendation was based on factors such as wind direction and speed, and the status of the reactors. This recommendation is consistent with what would be recommended if these conditions were experienced in the U.S. (http://www.nrc.gov/reading-rm/doc-collections/news/2011/11-050.pdf). These workers are likely being protected by limiting their time exposed to radiation, keeping them as far away from the radiation as possible, and shielding them from radiation using personal protective equipment. We use similar policies and guidance in the U.S.
Do the nuclear reactors in Japan currently pose a risk to workers in the U.S. and its Territories?
The NRC has indicated that all the available information continues to indicate Hawaii, Alaska, the U.S. Territories and the U.S. West Coast are not expected to experience any harmful levels of radioactivity. In theory, the primary issue of potential exposure would be from residual radioactive dust particles in the air (“fallout”) dispersed by atmospheric winds across the ocean. It is unlikely that the fallout will be detectable in the U.S or territories except by air sampling and analytic methods capable of detecting background levels (and thus capable of finding even small but not harmful increases above background levels).
Should nuclear reactor workers in the U.S. be concerned about a similar disaster in the U.S.?
Nuclear reactors at power plants throughout the United States include many additional safeguards than those at the site of the Japan earthquake (http://www.nrc.gov/reactors/operating/map-power-reactors.html). The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission provides basic guidelines to follow in the unlikely event of a nuclear power plant accident (http://www.nrc.gov/about-nrc/emerg-preparedness/in-radiological-emerg.html). As an additional precaution, President Obama announced March 17 that he has asked the NRC “to do a comprehensive review of the safety of our domestic nuclear plants in light of the natural disaster that unfolded in Japan” (http://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2011/03/17/remarks-president-situation-japan).
What trigger levels would require one to wear a respirator?
Levels which would indicate the need for respiratory protection to prevent the inhalation of radioactive particles are many orders of magnitude higher than any levels that are likely to be encountered by any US occupational groups under current circumstances.
Should airline personnel who staff flights to and from the U.S. and Japan take any precautions to protect themselves from radiation while in flight?
The Japanese Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) has established flight restrictions to keep civil aviation flights away from the Fukushima Dai-ichi Nuclear Power Plant, and has been working cooperatively with the U.S. aviation industry to accommodate requests for flight routes even further away from the plant than what is required by the current flight restrictions. Due to these measures, there is no added risk of exposure to radiation for flight crews, beyond routine occupational exposure to small amounts of cosmic radiation (http://www.cdc.gov/niosh/topics/flightcrew/). CDC does not recommend the use of KI by U.S. civilian aircrews at this time (CDC Civilian Aircrews Recommendations). The FAA is prepared to work with the Japanese CAA to take any additional necessary measures, including the re-routing of air traffic, to protect affected civil aviation, if there is any change in the situation.
Should airline personnel who staff flights to and from the U.S. and Japan take any precautions to protect themselves from radioactive contamination while they are on the ground in Japan?
Under current circumstances, the potential exposure of crewmembers to significant radioactive contamination while on the ground in Japanese airports, including overnight and boarding operations, is thought to be negligible. While in Japan, aircrews are encouraged to register with and be in contact with the U.S. Embassy in Tokyo, which will have the most accurate and current information for Americans in Japan.
Should baggage handlers be concerned about baggage coming in on flights from Japan?
NIOSH is unaware of any potentially hazardous levels of contamination from any of these persons or items at this time. NIOSH will work with partner agencies to closely monitor this question to assist with protecting workers. U. S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) is closely monitoring all cargo coming from the potentially affected areas of Japan to the United States http://www.customs.gov/xp/cgov/newsroom/news_releases/national/03172011_6.xml. All cargo is screened using radiation detectors with very low detection levels. If a detector indicates the presence of radioactive material in or on the cargo, the CBP uses established procedures to determine how the cargo will be handled. CBP has protocols in place should the situation arise.
Should mail handlers be concerned about mail that is arriving from Japan?
NIOSH is unaware of any potentially hazardous levels of contamination from any of these persons or items at this time. NIOSH will work with partner agencies to closely monitor this question to assist with protecting workers. U. S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) is closely monitoring all mail coming from the potentially affected areas of Japan to the United States http://www.customs.gov/xp/cgov/newsroom/news_releases/national/03172011_6.xml. All mail is screened using radiation detectors with very low detection levels. If a detector indicates the presence of radioactive material in or on the mail, the CBP uses established procedures to determine how the mail will be handled. CBP has protocols in place should the situation arise.
How will I know if cargo or mail coming to the United States from the affected area in Japan is ok to handle?
U. S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) is closely monitoring all cargo and mail coming from the potentially affected areas of Japan to the United States http://www.customs.gov/xp/cgov/newsroom/news_releases/national/03172011_6.xml. All cargo and mail is screened using radiation detectors with very low detection levels. If a detector indicates the presence of radioactive material in or on the cargo or mail, the CBP uses established procedures to determine how the cargo or mail will be handled. CBP has protocols in place should the situation arise.
Has NIOSH estimated potential effective doses to workers who might be exposed to shipping containers?
NIOSH has estimated the potential effective dose at the DOT standard of 4 Bq^cm2 and has determined that these estimated annual doses are below the OSHA standard for radiation exposure. For a description of those calculations please visit http://www.cdc.gov/niosh/topics/radiation/pdfs/NIOSHdoseAssessment.pdf.
If you would like to see the numerical calculations for the dose assessment, please visit http://www.cdc.gov/niosh/topics/radiation/pdfs/calc-niosh-hinnefeld-Daniels.pdf.
How can worker exposures be controlled for any hazard?
As a general principle, workers can be protected by avoiding or minimizing exposures. This may include restricting or limiting entry to and exit from a contaminated area, controlling or minimizing the amount of material dispersed/re-suspended into the air, personnel monitoring, and use of protective clothing and equipment. It is also helpful to maintain good personal hygiene (e.g., washing hands frequently and especially before eating, drinking, or smoking). Knowledge of the contamination levels is important in developing appropriate control strategies.
For Ionizing radiation, what is the recommendation to reduce exposures to As Low As Reasonably Achievable (ALARA)?
ALARA is the principle in which every reasonable effort is made to reduce exposure to maintain it as low as possible. This principle can be applied to radiation, which would include striving to achieve levels as far below the dose limits as practical, taking into account the state of technology, economics, and benefits to the public health and safety (see 10 CFR 20.1003). Examples of ALARA principles include 1) minimizing the time of exposure, 2) maximizing the distance from the source of exposure, and 3) shielding the source of exposure. ALARA practices are mandated for all aspects of radiation exposure at NRC licensed facilities, including application to work by radiation workers. ALARA is achieved through time, distance, and shielding. That is, the amount of time a worker is exposed is kept to a minimum, they work as far away from the source as they can, and shielding can include physical barriers such as a lead shield or personal protective equipment (http://www.nrc.gov/reading-rm/basic-ref/glossary/alara.html).
Q. What should I do if I am feeling anxious, nervous or upset because of the events in Japan?
Answer: The natural disaster in Japan and the resulting damage to the Fukushima Daiichi power plant has received widespread media attention, which has included speculation about radiation dispersal in parts of the U.S. At this time, all available reports of radiation levels from released radioactive materials have shown the concentration of particles to be well below accepted exposure limits. However, some individuals may experience symptoms of stress if they feel that they are in danger of being exposed to radiation. Stress reactions are common and can range from mild to severe.
Stress can manifest in a variety of symptoms, including:
- Fearfulness or a heightened sense of vulnerability
- Gastrointestinal Upset
- Sleep difficulties
- Problems with memory and concentration
Sharing your concerns with family and friends, reconnecting with trusted community members or a spiritual leader can be very helpful. Stress reactions usually go away within days. You should seek professional health care if symptoms are severe or prolonged.
For more information on stress, including tips for stress management, visit:
- National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH)
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
TTY: (888) 232-6348
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- Contact CDC-INFO