Tuesday February 7, 2012

BRATTLEBORO -- Fish taken from a lake in northern Vermont had similar levels of strontium-90 and cesium-137 as fish taken from the Connecticut River near Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant in Vernon.

During a Feb. 3 meeting of the House Fish, Wildlife and Water Resources Committee in the Vermont Statehouse, committee members heard from Bill Irwin, chief of radiological health for the Vermont Department of Health.

"We got preliminary results from our fish sample analysis from Lake Carmi in northern Franklin County," Irwin told the Reformer on Monday.

Irwin said Lake Carmine, in Enosburg Falls, is about as far away from Yankee as you can get and still be in the Green Mountain State.

"The results are that cesium-137 and strontium-90 in Lake Carmi fish is in the same range as Connecticut River fish," said Irwin. "We take this as some evidence that all fish in Vermont are likely to have radioactive cesium and strontium at these levels and that, as we've hypothesized, it is from nuclear weapons fallout and the releases of Chernobyl. All of us are glad to have proof and not just conjecture."

The fish taken from Lake Carmi were small-mouth bass, he said, and were taken from the lake by Vermont Fish and Wildlife fisheries personnel.

Cesium was found in both edible and inedible portions of the bass, he said, while strontium was found only in inedible portions, which include bones, the head, fins and scales.


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"There's no danger in eating the fish," said Irwin. "Should we ever find that there are reasons to restrict diet from any sampling for any kind of radioactive or toxicological events, we would keep in mind different cultures have different diets."

In the same analyses, the fish had almost 500 times more potassium-40 in them than they do cesium-137, he said.

Potassium-40 is a naturally occurring radioactive material that is in nearly everything and was created when the planet was formed billions of years ago, said Irwin.

A fish taken from the Connecticut River in 2010 had the highest levels of strontium-90 in bone that his department has seen in any samples.

"In that same sample we did find very low but measurable amounts of strontium-90 in the meat of the fish," said Irwin, which could have been a sampling or contamination error. "But we don't know that."

The sampling is part of an ongoing multi-state operation to help determine what is the level of the two radioactive isotopes in fish in Vermont, New Hampshire, Massachusetts and New York.

"We hope to further populate this data with fish taken from waters unaffected by nuclear power plants," said Irwin.

The states are also working with the a Food and Drug Administration laboratory in Winchester, Mass., to develop sampling and analysis protocols.

When more data has been assembled from around the region, Irwin said they hope to publish it in scientific journals.

The results of the sampling from Lake Carmi will be posted soon on DOH's website, he said.

When this year's fishing season begins, Fish and Wildlife personnel will be taking more fish for the Department of Health.

Bob Audette can be reached at raudette@reformer.com, or at 802-254-2311, ext. 160.