by: David Gutierrez
Large, bloody tumors continue to turn up in Pacific marine animals, raising concern that the ocean food web may be widely contaminated by radioactive isotopes from the Fukushima nuclear disaster. Unfortunately, no U.S. government agency has tested the ocean or its animals for this contamination, making it impossible to know how many North Americans are consuming radiation-contaminated seafood.
In March 2011, a massive earthquake and tsunami triggered a triple meltdown at Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant. The plant ejected an enormous volume of radioactive waste, nearly all of which found its way into the Pacific Ocean. In June 2015, researchers confirmed that Fukushima radiation carried by ocean currents had started to arrive along North America’s west coast.
Migratory fish had, of course, already been swimming in those same currents for four years.
Strange tumors never seen before
Shortly after the Fukushima disaster, observers started to notice strange tumors turning up in Alaskan fish. According to the Local Environmental Observers (LEO) Network in Hydaburg, Alaska, the past year has seen many reports of these growths in the flesh of salmon, including fish that appeared healthy from the outside.
“In all the years I’ve been fishing I never caught any fish like this,” said LEO volunteer Sam Kunaknana. “Caught 3 more sick fish with same markings and this time one had some kind of growths coming out from its mouth.”
Other fish showing mysterious tumors include Pacific herring and Canadian whitefish. The growths have also been commented on by fishermen and marine biologists.
And it’s not just Alaskan fish, but marine life all across the Pacific. Mysterious tumors have been observed in everything from shrimp and sea stars to sea lions and walruses. Polar bears and marine mammals have also been observed demonstrating unexplained hair loss, an early symptom of radiation poisoning.
Further afield, biologists recently discovered two disturbing firsts in the waters off Australia. In one case, reported in the Journal of Fish Diseases, a great white shark was found to have a tumor a foot long and a foot wide protruding from its mouth.
“This was a very unusual sight as we have never before seen a white shark with tumors,” said study co-author Rachel Robbins.
Indeed, sharks had been believed to be mostly immune to tumors. Yet, recently, researchers also discovered a tumor on the head of a bronze whaler shark, also in Australian waters.
The other first was the discovery of human-style skin cancer on a coral fish in Australia’s Great Barrier Reef.
Radioisotopes accumulate in muscle and bone
The causes of these tumors remain unknown, but a compelling possible explanation is radionuclide contamination from Fukushima. Among the isotopes that flooded into the Pacific Ocean are cesium-137 and strontium-90, both of which accumulate in the bodies of animals that ingest them. That means, of course, that these isotopes would also accumulate in the bodies of humans who eat contaminated fish.
Strontium-90 is particularly worrisome because it mimics calcium in the body, and therefore accumulates in bones. This dramatically raises the risk of blood and bone cancers.
Because many fish, including salmon, migrate to Alaskan waters each year using the same currents that are carrying Fukushima radionuclides eastward from Japan, it is certainly feasible that these fish could have spent the last four years ingesting radioactive isotopes, and are now starting to show cancer as a result.
But don’t look for government tests to prove or disprove this hypothesis. The government can confidently say that it has “no evidence” of a health risk from Fukushima radioactivity in seafood. That’s because it hasn’t bothered to test for it.
Sources for this article include: