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Slow Health Screening, Anxiety And Moving On

A year into the disaster in Japan, people in the Tohoku region struggle to gain access to diagnostic scans that can tell them their exposure level. Very few of the over 2 million people in Fukushima prefecture have received any sort of scan or estimation of their exposure. This has created the considerable anxiety of not knowing. Children largely did not receive thyroid scans in time to determine if they were exposed to high levels of iodine 131. So now instead of knowing if they were exposed annual thyroid exams will be done to try to catch developing tumors or other thyroid damage.

Whole body scans have only been done on a few people with facilities like Minamisoma Hospital giving priority to scan children first. With limited machines in the region most are left to wonder if they had a high level of exposure or not. With so few scans done it is also too early to determine the exposure level and potential health outcomes of the people in the region.

One trend that has been seen in the small amounts of testing done has been a link between consumption of contaminated foods and increasing cesium contamination in children. ACRO has found multiple instances of children outside the region with increasing contamination in their urine thought to be from their diet. They found one child that had unusually high levels. It was discovered that the family garden was contaminated. When they stopped eating produce out of the garden and bought tested produce imported from another area the child’s cesium levels began to drop. This clearly shows the importance of being able to find food that isn’t just below the government standard but as free of contamination as possible.

A group of students found support and connection with their friends from home through the school’s website. The posted messages to each other and of support that helped them get through the abrupt transition to other places. Many now feel settled in at new schools and plan to stay there.

Many now do not intend to return, especially those with children. Estimates show large percentages of those who evacuated plan to stay where they temporarily moved to or to another location outside contaminated regions.  The real numbers of people who have evacuated or evacuated and plan to stay somewhere new may be grossly underestimated as 80% have not reported a change of address to the government, the measure used to track who has left.

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