2011-03-29: What You Need To Know About Radiation in Boston Rainwater

Following the tsunami in Japan, trace amounts of radiation have been detected in Massachusetts rainwater. Here's what you need to know about the concern...

Iodine-131 Detected in Boston Rainwater

Iodine-131, a radioactive compound from nuclear fission products, was detected in a rainwater sample collected on March 22, 2011 as part of routine monitoring in Boston. This is only the latest in a series of rainwater samples across the US that show trace amounts of I-131 moving east across the country. It is surmised that the I-131 has been captured by cloud formations moving over Japan, which have then moved on to the United States. Trace amounts of I-131 will likely continue to be detected as the Fukushima nuclear plant remains unstable.

Iodine-131 is most commonly produced by nuclear reactors, but it is sometimes produced for the treatment of some thyroid cancers. As such, it is occasionally detected in municipal public waste by radiation monitors. Non-medical human exposures to I-131 have occurred as a result of nuclear disasters like the Chernobyl accident, or via aboveground testing of nuclear weapons in the United States in the 1950s and early 1960s. Exposure to I-131 is generally treated by saturating the thyroid with non-radioactive Iodine-127.

A recent article in the Boston Globe discussed the rainwater finding in further detail. The Mass. Department of Public Health announced that a rainwater sample in Boston showed a level of 79 pCi/L (picoCuries per liter) of I-131. This is a "very low" concentration that is expected to have no impact on drinking water supplies. Additional water samples taken at state reservoirs showed no detectable amounts of I-131. Since rainwater is significantly diluted as it falls upon a body of water such as a reservoir, this is consistent with what scientists would expect.

The Department of Health stated that I-131 has a relatively short half-life of 8 days, meaning that it decays quickly into a stable, non-radioactive state. Essentially, officials have explained, this finding does not present a threat to human health. Nonetheless, the Mass. DPH and its counterparts across the United States will continue to monitor rainwater and drinking water supplies for levels of this potentially hazardous radioiodine.

Staff Spotlight - Dana C. Buske, PhD.

Dr. Dana C. Buske is an environmental scientist who helps institutional and industrial clients investigate radiation findings, respond to worker safety concerns, and achieve compliance with OSHA regulations.

Dr. Buske's chemistry background and air quality expertise give her the tools to address a variety of health & safety concerns. She has extensive experience solving radiation, indoor air quality, mold, and VOC problems. Prior to joining the staff at Tech Environmental, Dr. Buske conducted research in organic chemistry at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Cornell University.

Dr. Buske can be contacted at (781) 890-2220, extension 29, or by email at

Tech Solves Radiation Concerns

The Middleton Waste Transfer Station on Natsue Way in Middleton, Massachusetts required radiation monitoring and radioactive source segregation to identify whether previously discovered isotopes had decayed below incineration thresholds of concern.

Tech Environmental conducted numerous site visits to the transfer station to perform radiation monitoring to locate and segregate the source material. This process involved picking through the entire contaminated load with a backhoe and shovel lift to identify the contaminated materials. Eventually, two 40 gallon containers were filled with radioactive-contaminated refuse that could be isolated until it decayed. Tech conducted a follow-up site visit three months later and found that all readings on the surface of the waste containers were at “normal background” levels.

For more information on Tech's health and safety services, including radiation services, click here.

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