What if I'm exposed to radiation? What can I do?
Potassium Iodide pills are only one of dozens of ways to help your body cope with radiation exposure. Please be aware that potassium iodide does have side effects, and can interact with other medications. There are other methods for treating radiation exposure which may work just as well or better, especially if you have livestock to consider.
The majority of Americans are iodine deficient, so we should be taking steps to add iodine rich food sources to our diets regardless of potential radiation exposure. I remember reading years ago about how miso and sea vegetables were used in the aftermath of the bombing of Nagasaki to treat radiation sickness.
In his book Macrobiotic Diet, Michio Kushi states: ‘At the time of the atomic bombing of Nagasaki in 1945, Tatsuichiro Akizuki, M.D., was director of the Department of Internal Medicine at St. Francis Hospital in Nagasaki. Most patients in the hospital, located one mile from the center of the blast, survived the initial effects of the bomb, but soon after came down with symptoms of radiation sickness from the radioactivity that had been released. Dr. Akizuki fed his staff and patients a strict macrobiotic diet of brown rice, miso* and tamari soy sauce soup, wakame and other sea vegetables , Hokkaido pumpkin, and sea salt and prohibited the consumption of sugar and sweets. As a result, he saved everyone in his hospital, while many other survivors in the city perished from radiation sickness.’”
- Iodine rich foods such as sea vegetables – wakame, dulsi, kelp, kombu, hijiki, etc.
- Spirulina and Chlorella – contain high amounts of a wide arrange of nutrients
- Miso – this has been proven helpful – I suspect other probiotic foods would also have some benefits
- Cruciferous vegetables – for example, broccoli, cabbage and mustard greens – the sulfur compounds in these vegetables trigger increased expression of your glutathione system, helping to detoxify heavy metals and bind free radicals
- Whole grains – While I've personally been reducing grains in my diet, this is an instance where their tendency to bind to minerals and transport them out of the body could be useful
- Other spices and herbs – tulsi (holy basil), cilantro, turmeric, ginkgo biloba, and aloe vera have also been used to treat radiation exposure
- Kombucha – There is much anecdotal evidence to suggest that kombucha aids healing from many toxins, as well as some scientific studies. It's a DIY solution, so it hasn't received much research funding.
Susun Weed suggests in her HFE magazine article Natural Ways to Combat Radiation Poisoning:
Eating lots of orange and dark green foods (sweet potatoes, winter squash, beets, carrots, kale, collards, chard, and spinach, for example)
All cabbage family plants protect your cells from the damaging effects of radiation.
Miso broth is the classic food for prevention of radiation damage. There’s twice the protection if a quarter-ounce/5 grams of dried kelp seaweed is added to the soup. In scientific studies, seaweed was able to neutralize radioactive isotopes in the human body. Researchers at McGill University say radioactive strontium binds to the algin in brown seaweeds to create sodium alginate, a compound easily and harmlessly excreted. Common black tea exhibited the same anti-radiation effects in several Japanese studies.
Drink green or black tea.
St. Joan’s/John’s wort oil protects the skin from radiation damage.
Burdock root (Arctium lappa) removes radioactive isotopes from the body.
Selenium protects DNA from radiation damage and helps prevent damage to the skin surface, too. Get plenty of selenium by eating a daily dose of 2 cups/500 ml of nettle infusion, one-half ounce/15 g kelp, 2 ounces/60 g cooked burdock root, or 1 cup/250 ml organic yogurt daily. Shellfish, green and black teas, and garlic contain significant amounts of selenium, as do many mushrooms. The best sources however are nettles (2200 mcg per 100 grams), kelp (1700 mcg/100 g), burdock (1400 mcg/100 g), catnip (Nepeta cataria), ginseng, Siberian ginseng, and astragalus.
Please visit Susun's article for more detailed information.
What about radiation in the water supply?
All emergency preparedness storage should include emergency water supplies. In the event of an emergency, it is common for water supplies to be disrupted. This page on “Drinking Water After an Earthquake” gives storage guidelines for emergency water use. They state, “You should store one gallon per day per person to last at least 72 hours. If you have pets, you might consider storing additional water for their needs as well.”
A reverse osmosis (RO) system is the best way to remove contaminated particulate matter from your drinking water. Look here for a review of water treatment options.
What if there is Radiation in the Food?
The Centre for Food Safety of Hong Kong discusses Food Safety and Radiation Exposure:
Possible residual surface radioactive contamination on food may be reduced by suitable food preparation such as washing, brushing, scrubbing, or peeling. It is also possible to store contaminated food for prolonged times to allow radioactive decay of short-lived radionuclides. On the contrary, cooking in general cannot reduce the level of radioactive contamination in food.
You can wash off surface contamination, but there's no practical way to remove contamination from deeper in the tissues. Avoid consuming contaminated food if possible and takes steps to minimize damage.
I have livestock or crops that have been exposed to radiation. What can I do to protect them, and is the food from them safe to eat?
For food crops: If they have been exposed to only small amounts of radiation, chances are that food crops can be safely consumed. Wash, scrub, peel or shell produce to remove surface radiation. Soaking the produce in some water with baking soda and sea salt mixed in probably wouldn't hurt, either. If it works for detoxing people, why not produce? If it is weeks or months until harvest, much of the radiation will break down naturally on its own (at lower levels of exposure).
For livestock: Keep animals under cover if possible during times of radiation exposure. Keep their food covered as well. If food piles have been stored outside and been exposed to radioactive fallout, removed the surface layer of foodstuffs and feed material from underneath. If possible, supplement the animals with some of the same food materials recommended for human detoxification.
For more detailed recommendations on dealing with radiation exposure to food crops, please see:
RADIOLOGICAL EMERGENCY INFORMATION FOR FARMERS, FOOD PROCESSORS AND DISTRIBUTORS from the Massachusetts Department of Public Health
How do I even know if I've been exposed to radiation? Can radiation get into my house?
Radiation is detected using a radiation detector or dosimeter. They can be purchased online through a number of vendors, although many retailors are currently facing a backlog of orders. If you have an existing radiation detector (like mine), there are companies that offer calibration services.
Here's a brief explanation of radiation from the Health Physics Society:
Radiation is energy that comes from a source and travels through spaaace and may be able to penetrate various materials. Light, radio, and microwaves are types of radiation that are called nonionizing. The kind of radiation discussed in this document is called ionizing radiation because it can produce charged particles (ions) in matter.
Ionizing radiation is produced by unstable atoms. Unstable atoms differ from stable atoms because unstable atoms have an excess of energy or mass or both. Radiation can also be produced by high-voltage devices (e.g., x-ray machines).
Unstable atoms are said to be radioactive. In order to reach stability, these atoms give off, or emit, the excess energy or mass. These emissions are called radiation. The kinds of radiation are electromagnetic (like light) and particulate (i.e., mass given off with the energy of motion). Gamma radiation and x rays are examples of electromagnetic radiation. Gamma radiation originates in the nucleus while x rays come from the electronic part of the atom. Beta and alpha radiation are examples of particulate radiation.
Interestingly, there is a “background” of natural radiation everywhere in our environment. It comes from spaaace (i.e., cosmic rays) and from naturally occurring radioactive materials contained in the earth and in living things.
The document from the Massachusetts Department of Public Health states: “Alpha particles can be stopped by a sheet of paper. Beta particles can be stopped by a thin sheet of metal. Gamma rays are the most penetrating and can be stopped by concrete or lead.” This is yet another reason I'm thankful to live in a house built with Insulated Concrete Forms.
In the event of a radiation emergency, most areas have some method of warning the effected populations, be it automated calling systems, warning sirens or announcements on TV or radio. Including an emergency radio in your emergency preparedness kit is a good idea. We were gifted one of these Eton American Red Cross units for Christmas by my in-laws. It includes a hand crank and solar panel for charging, along with an LED flashlight in addition to the radio.
What about the risk of terrorist attack using nuclear weapons or dirty bombs?
It's an unfortunate fact that there are people out there who want to purposely hurt others. Risk of terrorist attacks are probably greatest in larger cities and coastal areas, due to the impact of devastating large numbers of people at one time and the accessibility of ports. A weapon could be detonated off the coast without reaching land and still wipe out a significant portion of the coastline.
These two articles, one from the east coast and one from the west coast, discuss the risks of radiation based terrorist attacks, and what can be done about them.
It is my hope that by understanding what can go wrong, we can all be prepared instead of panicked should an emergency take place.