One of the most nutritional supplements children, particularly babies and toddlers, receive almost daily is milk. Since news of the Japanese nuclear power plant explosions, some parents are asking – how safe is the milk I give my child?
According to the EPA, the FDA, and scientists who study radiation, the risk of dangerous radiation levels in the nation’s milk supply is small.
Recent reports from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Food and Drug Administration say that very low levels of radiation have turned up in milk samples on the West coast.
Traces of radioactive Iodine-131 were found in milk in California and Washington state. Federal and state authorities are monitoring for contamination as the nuclear crisis continues to unfold in Japan.
The radiation found is more than 5,000 times smaller than the level that would require any action from the FDA. “These types of findings are to be expected in the coming days, and are far below levels of public health concern, including for infants and children,” the agency said.
Robert Henkin, professor emeritus of radiology at Loyola University’s Strich School of Medicine, agrees that the levels detected are nothing to be concerned about at this time.
Henkin told National Public Radio’s Health Blog Shots “We are exposed to tons of natural radiation, the amount is a fraction of our yearly background exposure.”
Even tainted Japanese milk, one sample of which reportedly had over 1,500 becquerels per liter (50,000 times the amount found in Washington), would only be dangerous if you drank 58,000 glasses.
People are often exposed to low levels of radiation through common occurrences such as smoking, flying in airplanes, dental x-rays, mammograms and exposure to natural radiation from the soil.
Though radioactive material spreading from the Japanese power plant reached the West Coast days ago, radiation levels detected so far are well below normal exposure. Also, because iodine -131 has a short half-life of 8 days- this level is likely to rapidly decrease.
Levels of iodine 131 entering the air can be very diluted, but if the iodine is deposited on grass eaten by cows, the cows will re-concentrate it in their milk by a factor of 1,000. This is mainly a concern with fresh milk, not for dairy products that are stored before consumption.
Milk provides calcium for strong bones and teeth, and according to medical research, milk can improve the intake of minerals and vitamins. A glassful of milk contains vitamin A & B for good eyesight and increasing red blood cell count, carbohydrates for energy, potassium for proper nerve function, magnesium for muscular function, phosphorous for energy release, protein for body repair and growth.
The American Academy of Pediatrics advises that parents begin low fat milk after age two years. Before that age, toddlers should be either breastfeeding or drinking whole milk, but after age two you can start giving a child 2%, 1%, or skim milk. And of course they should be either breastfeeding or drinking an iron fortified infant formula before age 12 months.