Graduate student Danielle Burnett, who traces heavy metals in kelp, collected the macrocystis off Orange County for the radiation tests. Colleagues also sent Manley samples from Santa Barbara, Pacific Grove and Santa Cruz.
“We demonstrated the usefulness of using giant kelp as monitors for radioactive isotopes from nuclear accidents,” Manley said.
Manley’s idea is to get an organized group of people to grab kelp blades a few times a year to gather background values. Then if a radioactive event occurs, they would take samples daily and chart what happens and which coastlines are affected.
“One of the beauties of this is you don’t need real fancy equipment,” he said. “It’s very simple to sample kelp blades and dry them in the oven and grind them up and put them in a tube and count [the isotopes.]”
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency officials in San Francisco and Washington, D.C. declined to comment on the report or whether they will consider monitoring kelp. The EPA measured air and milk on the West Coast after Fukushima and concluded that “radiation levels remained well below any level of public health concern.”
Fisher cautioned that people get bigger doses from living in high altitudes, flying on airplanes and having x-rays.
“It’s appropriate to be concerned about it and test for it and monitor -- and that’s what we’re doing,” he said. “But irrational fear doesn’t make sense. The main point is that there is a natural radiation background that marine organisms always have been exposed to.”
The kelp study can be found at http://pubs.acs.org/doi/abs/10.1021/es203598r
This article originally ran at Environmental Health News, a news source published by Environmental Health Sciences, a nonprofit media company.