For the third consecutive year, tests have found no radioactivity in Alaska seafood stemming from the 2011 tsunami and nuclear disaster in Fukushima, Japan, state officials announced Monday.
The Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation said in a statement that seafood samples from Alaska waters in 2016 tested negative for three Fukushima-related radioactive isotopes: iodine-131, cesium-134 and cesium-137. The findings for the tested species — including king, chum, sockeye and pink salmon, as well as halibut, pollock, sablefish, herring and Pacific cod — matched those from 2014 and 2015.
"Fish species were chosen for testing based on their importance to subsistence, sport, and commercial fisheries and because they spend part of their life cycle in the western Pacific Ocean," DEC officials wrote. "Samples of fish were taken by DEC environmental health officers during regular inspections of commercial fishing processors throughout the state."
Department spokeswoman Marlena Brewer said that the samples were tested at DEC's Environmental Health Laboratory in Anchorage, using portable gamma-ray analysis equipment provided by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Digital data from that equipment was then sent to an FDA lab in Massachusetts for analysis and full results, under a pilot program first being tested in Alaska.
"The idea is that they wanted to see how this worked out so in the event of another Fukushima-type event, they could deploy these devices out across the country rather than try to get the samples to a central lab," Brewer said. "We're pretty excited that we were chosen."
Although the FDA already analyzes foreign and domestic foods in the U.S. for radioactive isotopes, Brewer said the state has received "a lot of concern from the community" seeking data for seafood in Alaska waters.
"We were able to coordinate with the FDA," Brewer said. "We said, 'If we collect the samples, will you analyze them for us?' "
The DEC plans to conduct further radiation testing on Alaska seafood this year, under the same FDA-assisted framework used in 2016.
"We weren't expecting to detect anything and we haven't, but I think the data goes a long way to reassuring confidence in our fish," Brewer said. "Sometimes the public needs that data to give them a little more confidence."
Officials caution that the results don't mean Alaska shellfish are necessarily free of other toxins, like paralytic shellfish poisoning, according to Brewer.
Scientists were still detecting trace levels of Fukushima-related radioactivity in waters off California and Oregon in 2016, Brewer said. Those results, however, "do not indicate a threat to Alaska waters or the safety of consuming marine fish," the DEC said in its statement.
A presentation on the Alaska testing program will be held at the Dena'ina Civic and Convention Center in Anchorage at 3:30 p.m. on Feb. 8, during the 2017 Alaska Forum for the Environment.