Sampling of marine items found to be adulterated

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Sampling of marine items found to be adulterated

Ten of the 150 samples of imported fishery products in Korea contain Cesium-137, a radioactive contaminant, environmental organizations announced Tuesday in Seoul.

Cesium-137 is the radioactive material that was leaked from the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant in Japan following the March 2011 tsunami and earthquake.

The 150 samples were collected from April through October at major chain stores and local markets by Korea Radiation Watch, the Institute for Environment and Community Development Studies and the Korean Federation for Environmental Movements Gwangju.

The 10 contaminated products - four samples of Alaskan pollock, two mackerel samples and one cod, Alaskan pollock roe, Alaskan pollock milt and kelp sample each - were all from large chain supermarkets. The Cesium-137 levels ranged from 0.22 to 0.77 Becquerel per kilogram, averaging 0.41 Becquerel per kilogram.

Currently, the government has permitted the imports of food products that contain less than 100 Becquerels per kilogram of Cesium-137.

The percentage of contaminated samples at 6.7 percent was little changed from the 6.6 percent announced in April. The Korea Radiation Watch conducted a similar study on 545 product samples from June 2013 through March, and announced that 36 samples were contaminated in April. This was much higher than the 0.6 percent of fishery products in Korea found to be contaminated in a sampling of 2,725 items assessed last year by the Ministry of Food and Drug Safety.

“The government measures radioactive levels for 1,800 seconds (30 minutes), but the organization measures for 10,000 seconds (2 hours and 47 seconds),” said Lee Yun-keun, head of Korea Radiation Watch. Lee stressed that more thorough monitoring was needed to prevent consumers from ingesting contaminated products.

“The government says it will reexamine the import ban on fisheries from eight prefectures near Fukushima, Japan, but it should also reinforce the regulation [on imports] from China, Taiwan, Russia and others,” said Kim Hye-jeong, chairwoman of the steering committee of Korea Radiation Watch.

Of the 40 isotopes of Cesium found, Cesium-133 is the only nonradioactive isotope and exists naturally. Among its isotopes, Cesium-137 is known to be the most dangerous, and can be deadly at high levels, according to the United States Environmental Protection Agency.

BY KANG CHAN-SOO, KIM EUN-JI [eunjik@joongang.co.kr]

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