Fukushima’s Health Impacts On Children Grow

IanAsh-KaeTestAs the third anniversary of the 3-11 disaster draws near, parents in Japan are still dealing with the impacts from the initial and ongoing exposures to their children.

Cesium 137 is still being found in children in Japan as far away as Tokyo. The levels detected are in the same range as many of the levels found in 2012 and 2011. The risk factor exists far beyond the contaminated areas in Fukushima. Children in Iwate, Tokyo and Miyagi are still being found to have ceisum in their urine in 2013 by two NGO groups. Food is frequently implicated in the continued finding. In many cases parents have been able to further reduce the cesium levels in their children by making changes to how food is selected. This persistent problem even as the government claims that contamination in food has gone down show the ongoing problems parents have to deal with to keep their kids safe.

Adding to the persistent problems parents have to face, cesium 137 is still being found in tap water at low levels in Japan. While the levels are low, water is in everything and contributes a considerable amount to someone’s daily intake of food and drink. Tap water contamination was found as far away as Tokyo in the south and Akita in the west, far outside of areas considered to be contaminated.

The daily life of many children in Fukushima includes living in areas of significant contamination. This video shows a park in Koriyama where children were seen playing on tree covered hill in the dirt. Levels in the area were as high as 22.97 uSv/h in some places. Koriyama is in an area we showed to be higher than the voluntary evacuation zones in Chernobyl.

Children from Kanto, Saitama, Kanagawa, Tokyo and Chiba have been found to have low white blood cell counts. This condition can cause a dangerous weakness in the immune system if someone were to get sick. In the initial research of the doctor who discovered the problem, he found that when people left the region for places that had less contamination their white blood counts improved. He cautioned that at this point it can not be directly connected to radiation exposure but urged wider monitoring of people to determine if there is a specific cause.

We find testimony of parents with the same problems repeated over and over. Sick kids with similar sets of ailments and medical problems. Many adults are also suffering from similar medical problems. One parent who told her story in December, 2013 showed the very real implications of what happened to them in 2011. They were outside for an extended period of time and ate local produce and water in Fukushima. Their government sponsored screenings showed nothing or gave them limited information. When they were able to obtain independent screenings they found they were contaminated and had thyroid damage. They managed to eventually move with help of a private group and their health improved. This story is similar to the many we hear from parents in Japan. These struggles and medical problems have been well documented in Ian Thomas Ash’s award winning documentary A2-B-C.

One in four children impacted by the 3-11 disaster, including those in other areas that were hit by the tsunami are in need of mental health care. A variety of problems are emerging. The levels of those in need of mental health care is three times that of other regions in Japan. Experts stress the need to address these problems early before they can lead to learning issues or larger problems later in life.

As we mentioned yesterday, the numbers of thyroid cancers in Fukushima children has again increased. The incidence levels defy the earlier claims about this being an outcome of additional screening or even “normal” levels in Japan.

image credit | Ian Thomas Ash

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