The Journal News
(Original Publication: January 16, 2007)
Hudson River Fish Found to Contain Radioactive Isotope
By Greg Clary
Strontium 90's effect on health
Strontium 90 is chemically similar to calcium, and tends to deposit in bone and blood-forming tissue (bone marrow). Thus, strontium 90 is referred to as a "bone seeker." Internal exposure to strontium 90 is linked to bone cancer, cancer of the soft tissue near the bone, and leukemia. Risk of cancer increases with increased exposure to strontium 90. The risk depends on the concentrations in the environment and on the exposure conditions.
Source: U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
BUCHANAN – In what could be the region's next environmental controversy or simply just a laboratory mistake, fish in the Hudson River have been found to contain traces of strontium 90.
The radioactive isotope was discovered leaking almost a year ago at the Indian Point nuclear plants, and tests on 12 fish show four with detectible amounts, according to a memo obtained by The Journal News. The tests were conducted for Entergy Nuclear Northeast, which owns the plants, after researchers pulled the fish from the river during the summer – six from the Newburgh-Beacon Bridge area, and the rest from around Indian Point.
"Certainly it's of concern that the strontium was found in 25 percent of the sampling," said C. J. Miller, spokeswoman for Rockland County Executive C. Scott Vanderhoef.
"The origin of that is something that we need to determine. If indeed it is coming from the plant itself, then that needs to be remedied immediately."
The company has spent millions to find and stop the leaks, but so far have only been able to capture much of the radiated water without successfully plugging the sources. No other radioactive isotopes were found in the fish, federal regulators said. Three of the upriver fish had strontium levels ranging as high as 24.5 picocuries per kilogram, while one taken from near the plant showed 18.8 picocuries per kilogram, according to results first released late last week.
Picocuries measure radioactivity level in the tiniest amounts, and though the Nuclear Regulatory Commission doesn't set safe minimums for fish, Westchester County officials said the mean detectible level is 10 picocuries per kilogram. Strontium has a half-life of nearly 29 years and was banned in the United States after weapons testing in the 1950s and 1960s left large amounts in the atmosphere. Health officials warned at the time that it competed with calcium in human bodies, especially in growing children, and could affect bone development.
Public officials, regulators and plant owners are eager to see more sampling results to determine if the results were merely inaccurate, as false positives are more likely at low levels, or is something more significant.
"We have samples that quite honestly seem to be a little questionable," said Anthony Sutton, Westchester County's top emergency management official.
"A follow-up test is called for and that's what we've advocated."
Sutton said the fact the majority of fish testing positive for strontium 90 had been found 30 miles away in the control group only muddies the results more. As part of its investigation into groundwater contamination at Indian Point, Entergy has increased its monitoring of aquatic life in the Hudson River, including bass, perch, sunfish and eel. The strontium 90 has shown up in the fleshy parts of the fish, not the bones, which surprised regulators.
Plant officials have acknowledged that a tritium leak discovered in August 2005 and strontium leaks discovered in February have likely reached the river, though they and NRC regulators have maintained there is no threat to worker safety or public health. Jim Steets, Indian Point's spokesman, said state Department of Environmental Conservation officials have been tracking strontium levels in fish around the nuclear plant, and strontium has shown up in fish at these levels before, levels he said were more background readings than a real cause for concern.
Attempts to reach the state DEC yesterday were unsuccessful because the offices were closed for the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. holiday.
NRC spokesman Neil Sheehan said his agency was interested in reviewing state data for the area for comparisons while awaiting more sampling data.
"We don't consider this a serious situation," Sheehan said. "We would very much like to gather some more information before we make any judgments on this. There are several issues that may call these results into question."
Opponents of the nuclear plant said yesterday that they want to see more research done as well, to determine how significant the impact on the river is from the leaks.
"If the levels of strontium 90 in Hudson River fish are indeed above background levels, this confirms Riverkeeper's worst fears," said Lisa Rainwater, the Indian Point campaign coordinator for Riverkeeper.
"Based on the preliminary data, the leak is likely affecting the entire Hudson River ecosystem. This is a black eye for Entergy and their management of high-level radioactive waste."