Has the EPA’s RadNet been Designed as an Obstacle Course? (w/ Post-Fukushima Radiation Data for Eureka, CA)

End of November 2012 — This blog-post-in-the-making was placed on a back-burner.  My “quick search” for regional data quickly turned into “mapping the EPA’s obstacle course”.  This blog post shows what can be found (or, all too often, not) through the EPA’s website(s).

As a matter of introduction, here’s a look at the ‘EPA Radnet’ (radiation monitors) in the extended neighborhood:   In a 500 mile radius around Arcata, CA, there are only 6 monitors.  (For comparison with Europe, tiny Belgium has more radiation monitors than the US, and just Germany alone has 1800 (!) public monitors, check it out: http://odlinfo.bfs.de/ – Just saying…).  

The regional “monitoring” situation looks like this:

I started out with the intention of finding answers to these questions:

  • How well has the EPA monitored (and is monitoring) the possible radioactive fallout from the ongoing nuclear disaster at the Japanese Fukushima-Daiichi NPP in Humboldt County, California, in regards to
    • current ocean contamination,
    • fallout deposition on land and surface water, and
    • current levels of radiation.  
    • I aim to find out whether or not there’s still (end of 2012) a trace of Fukushima-Daiichi nuclear fallout to be found in air, precipitation, or soil.

Nice monitoring “network”, EPA… Except for Eureka, there isn’t even one other monitor in a 500 kilometer radius around Arcata, CA. Source: United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA Radnet) (w/ my annotation added).

Already back in April 2011, I mentioned that almost the entire coastline from the Golden Gate of San Francisco, all the way to Vancouver Island, as well as enormous regions inland go virtually unmonitored by the EPA.   (Note: in the pic to the left: I’ve seen that Boise, ID sometimes has a monitor, but on Nov 9 it was off or gone.)  

!–> Worth a look perhaps:  The USGS and some counties have additional data as well, which I combined for the (May 1, 2012) overview blog post “Radiation Fallout Maps for the United States” (which still/currently gets about 2o to 40 views/day).

The rather dismal (or outright rigging of) radiation monitoring, critiqued by many (examples: here, here, and here), was the case when the quake and tsunami hit Japan on March 11, 2011, and apparently just about nothing has improved since then:

The US EPA’s Radnet remains one of the most pathetic
monitoring networks in the industrialized world.

To find out answers from the EPA… is still a journey in and of itself, it turns out…

Where to look?

!–> I start with my own list of worldwide public (online) radiation monitors:

To get there, I click on the ‘Radioactivity‘ tab above (top bar under the banner, next to the DISCLAIMER), roll the pointer over ‘Current Radiation Levels (monitors)‘ and then carefully scroll down to click on ‘United States‘.  Annotated Screenshot shown here:

How you can use this blog for checking upon radiation levels in many places all over the world. In this case, the route to data for the United States.

In the window that opens, the first on my list of data sources has been the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for a long time, with these two given websites as starting points:

(Note: This was what I had showing pre-November 2012.  
After this exploration, there will be the 5 websites explored below.)

Using the first one, http://www.epa.gov/radiation/, you get this below shown page (with red arrow added by me on what I’ll click next: http://www.epa.gov/radnet/index.html):

Screenshot of EPA Radnet site at http://www.epa.gov/radiation/
on November 7, 2012 (red arrow added).
Click to access the EPA radiation website.

By clicking on the first, ‘Radnet – Current Radiation Monitoring (http://www.epa.gov/radnet/index.html), I get to the next shown menu, on which 4 things gather my immediate interest (red arrows added by me):

Screenshot on Nov 7, 2012
Click to access US EPA Radnet menu site http://www.epa.gov/radnet/index.html

!–>  After quite a bit of exploring, the EPA’s current website structure appears to be as follows:

!!–>  In a nutshell, to find out about what happened or is happening, the EPA essentially provides these 5 paths towards radiation data:

OK.   I’ll just explore ‘m A through E:

A. — Japanese Radiation Monitoring Archive March – June 2011http://www.epa.gov/japan2011/index.html (which on Nov 11, 2012 it stated “last updated September 11, 2012“) starts with a statement that might as well have been crafted by the nuclear industry…   [w/ my emphasis, & with my comments in green]

June 30 [2011, EPA] Statement:  In response to the Japanese nuclear incident, EPA accelerated and increased sampling frequency and analysis to confirm that [Note intent: ‘to confirm that‘, not ‘to find out if ‘] there were no harmful levels of radiation reaching the U.S. from Japan and to inform the public about any level of radiation detected. After a thorough data review showing declining radiation levels, on May 3, 2011, [the] EPA returned to the routine RadNet sampling and analysis process for precipitation, drinking water and milk.”

[Note: ‘routine’ = one sample from one spot, measured once every 3 months only.  If you’re lucky.]

“As always, our 24/7 air monitoring stations continue to measure radiation levels, alerting scientists to even slight changes.”

[See also ‘here (April 2011), when I wrote:  “In the western US, out of  the roughly 35 EPA RadNet monitors, 15 have been taken offline (aka “under survey” as they call it, yet strangely similar to ALL Japan’s monitors within the 20 km evacuation zone in Japan, about which the Japanese government clearly prefers to keep data undisclosed…).”   Just saying…]

EPA: “It is important to note that all of the radiation levels detected by RadNet monitors and sampling have been very low, well below any level of public health concern.”

[At what level does the EPA’s level of ‘public health concern’ actually start?  Mine definitely starts when there’s ANY nuclear-accident-created radioactive fallout in water or air, including the more dangerous than previously known  low level radiation.]

“Across the RadNet system, we saw decreasing radiation levels during April and May. Since May, sample analyses have predominantly shown no detections of radionuclides associated with the Japanese nuclear incident.”  (…)

[‘predomininantly nothing‘ is apparently Epa-nese for ‘radioactive fallout all the way from Japan is actually still being detected in some places or at some times.’  I wonder if this is technically (at best) ‘criminal negligence‘, given the accident was far from over on May 3, 2011.  Looks like very little has changed and nothing has improved in the past year. ;-/  ]

Starting at (A.) http://www.epa.gov/japan2011/index.html, screenshot:  

Nov 12, 2012 screenshot of EPA’s http://www.epa.gov/japan2011/index.html
with couple annotations added in red by me.
Click Image to access current http://www.epa.gov/japan2011/index.html

To proceed from http://www.epa.gov/japan2011/index.html to ‘Data Summeries‘ (circled) gives us this new page with ‘data updates‘ = http://www.epa.gov/japan2011/data-updates.html.   The last ‘update’ dates back to June 16, 2011:

“June 16, 2011 – Today, EPA released the final results from the second round drinking water samples, which were previously analyzed for iodine. 40 samples were analyzed.  No radionuclides of concern were detected. To view the most recent drinking water data, go to http://www.epa.gov/japan2011/rert/radnet-sampling-data.html.”

Notice that  “No radionuclides of concern were detected.” is not the same as “No radionuclides were detected.”  If nothing actually concerns them, then – how convenient – nothing of concern will ever be detected.  Also, I-131 is one thing, but if you’re testing, test for Cs-137 too… Jeez… Kinda unbelievable how they come across as not even wanting to know…

By clicking on that http://www.epa.gov/japan2011/rert/radnet-sampling-data.html, I arrived at an actual database (Socrata-powered) at last.  Let’s see what the worst was, and what the latest data show, for Eureka, CA.  Screenshot of next place to make choices…:

The EPA’s ‘Japan 2011 Radnet Sampling Data’
at http://www.epa.gov/japan2011/rert/radnet-sampling-data.html on Nov 12, 2012
Click image to access latest.  Apparantly, the EPA didn’t bother to take samples in far Northern California…

The Japan 2011 Radnet Sampling Data has 4 data categories:

! DATA –>  Sorry, no data…  Upon checking all four, I report back: No samples were even taken by the EPA in Eureka, CA, nor anywhere else in Humboldt County, CA.  

— Detour: San Francisco, CA—-

The San Francisco Bay Area is over 250 miles to the south, but at least some samples were taken and tested there by the EPA (as well as UC Berkeley, see http://www.nuc.berkeley.edu/UCBAirSampling).  Here’s what I found in the 4 EPA data sets; showing here one for Air Filter results for San Francisco, CA:

Location: San Francisco, CA
Date Posted: 03/30/2011
Date Collected: 03/18/2011
Sample Type: Air Filter

UNITS Note: Radiation Units: pCi/m3 (picoCurie per cubic meter.  To convert to Becquerel per square meter (Bq/m3) of the SI units, I used http://www.radprocalculator.com/Conversion.aspx , one of many handy tools on my Radiation Units page).  The EPA air filter result for March 18, 2011 was:

  • Ba-140, Co-60, Cs-136, Te-129, Te-129m: ND (non detected)
  • Cs-134     0.00092  pCi/m3 =  0.00003404 Bq/m3
  • Cs-137     0.0013 pCi/m3      = 0.0000481 Bq/m3
  • I-131         0.068 pCi/m3        = 0.002516  Bq/m3
  • I-132        0.0066 pCi/m3      = 0.0002442 Bq/m3
  • I-133         0.002 pCi/m3        = 0.000074 Bq/m3
  • Te-132      0.0075 pCi/m3     = 0.0002775 Bq/m3

A combined “0.00319384 Bq/m3” (in CUBIC Meter) could mean, if similar fallout was in the air above where it was measured,  if all the fallout of the 1 kilometer up would settle in in square meter, you’d get 3.1 Bq/m2, which, for “disaster standards” at least, is luckily VERY low, pretty much almost “statistically irrelevant”, so low that I consider it “of almost no concern” myself.

—- end SF detour —-

But I doubt this EPA snapshot tells the whole story, given the results found by UC Berkeley around the same time...; and especially given the fact that fluid dynamics create very erratic deposition patterns, with significant differences withing a mile or less.  See the comparable fallout maps for Japan (post-Fukushima 2011) and Europe (post-Chernobyl 1986) yourself).

Anyhow, I’ll continue with my search EPA data for Eureka…  (still at “A.”)

At the “EPA’s nationwide radiation monitoring system, RadNet”, radiation is detected in two ways: air monitoring and sample analysis:

  • I’m looking to “Get the dataon the “air monitoring” first  (= http://www.epa.gov/japan2011/rert/radnet-data-map.html), which shows they did actually monitor this and the data is public.  The graphed presentation, however, makes it near-impossible for a lay person to figure out if the spikes at the end of March 2011 were significant, or how much of that fallout may actually have deposited on the soil with the springs rains.  

!–> The post-Fukushima air monitoring (gamma, beta) results for Eureka are HERE: http://www.epa.gov/japan2011/rert/radnet-eureka-bg.html  (For my screenshot, see next 2 images, below.)

  • The “Sample Analysis“, however…  Get the data (= http://www.epa.gov/japan2011/rert/radnet-sampling-data.html leads to the same above-mentioned/shown (nearest screenshot above) Socrata-based database, which has nothing on Eureka what-so-ever.  If air/rain/soil/milk samples were taken in Eureka for lab analysis in the days and months following the Fukushima nuclear disaster, no data was made public.  It seems the EPA didn’t even bother to gather samples in this region in the first place, though.

DATA: Here’s the post-Fukushima air monitoring (gamma, beta) results for Eureka, CA (USA) — (Source: EPA: http://www.epa.gov/japan2011/rert/radnet-eureka-bg.html),  for radiation in Eureka, California air in 2011 (air filter only, no additional samples appear to have been taken); starting with

SOURCE: http://www.epa.gov/japan2011/rert/radnet-eureka-bg.html with annotations in red by me.

And here’s BETA (for Eureka, CA, with the March 11, 2011 quake marked on the graph as well):

Beta Radiation in Eureka, CA, after the March 11, 2011 Fukushima-Daiichi nuclear disaster. SOurce: EPA: http://www.epa.gov/japan2011/rert/radnet-eureka-bg.html, with my annotations in red added.

Couple comments:  For starters, it’s basically “raw data”, which would require processing to decode and interpret, therefor making it pretty much useless to the general public in search of clear quick answers.  On top of that, the data is graphed in such a way that it’s hard to spot deviations from the normal variability.  All I’m left with is to take their word for it that “levels recorded at this monitor have been thousands of times below any conservative level of concern.”  I’m still not quite clear what they actually mean with that, scientifically speaking.

Call me crazy, but radioactive fallout, even in small amounts, IS of at least some concern, ’cause unlike radiation from distant non-absorbed sources (X-Rays, CAT-scan, cosmic rays in air plane, etc.), the radiating particle (fallout, waste) can get lodged in body tissue (after absorbing it through breathing, drinking or eating), making dose rate comparisons moot.  See also my look at the (post-Chernobyl European ECRR epidemiology-based) model, versus the sadly-still-used (1970s British ICRP dose-based-) model: HERE.

Just out of curiosity, I’d like to look at the gamma ray data for its spikes from around March 21, 2011 – to see what it amounts to.  I want to see if I can find a way to interpret what is shown on the graphs above.  

–>  In the Notes, the EPA states, “To get the data shown in this graph, please search using our query tool.”  That Query Tool is https://cdxnode64.epa.gov/radnet-public/query.do, which is my “B”, the second of the 5 data websites at the ends of the EPA maze.     So, that was “A.”, next, “B.”:

B.   The ‘Query Tool’:  http://www.epa.gov/radnet/radnet-data/index.html

To get started finding data on this site, I can now use this ‘query tool to search the RadNet database in EPA’s Central Data Exchange.  Just to pick some gamma ray energy ranges,  I choose 3 of the several gamma ray bands (10 and 9 and 4 (all randomly picked, don’t know enough yet), and the Beta Count, and erase the date range to leave it blank, “to get the last 400 data entries”.   Tada… (?) …

Annotated screenshot of the next circuit of hoops to jump through…

SOURCE: https://cdxnode64.epa.gov/radnet-public/query.do
WIth annotations added by me (in red).

“Please be patient while we get back with the data you requested,” which eventually is followed by…  Some glitch:

Followed by, after many attempts, some more technical difficulties… :

And then some more of this:

This kept happening for several days in a row, one of the reasons it has taken forever to finish this blog post. (I went hiking instead.)

Unbelievable how the EPA managed to make this so time-consuming…

But when it works, you could get a data spreadsheet when you give a relatively short time period for which you request data.  The downloadable “Excel spreadsheet”, by the way, comes with this “Import Warning – This is a tab delimited document, not a valid Excel document. The data might look different.”   Unable to read it, I tried changing the .xls to .txt , which worked to make it readable.  Anyhow, if I change it myself, I can open it as text and THEN import it to a spreadsheet reader without further delays…).

I choose March 9 through March 29, 2011 data, filled it out as such, and was given a spreadsheet, See the annotated condensed screenshot below; There are some values (highlighted by me) that stood out as being more than double normal average Beta-background, and elevated Gamma measurements, on March 20, 2011:

SOURCE: https://cdxnode64.epa.gov/radnet-public/queryResult.do
Annotated and emphasis added by me.  Click Image to access the Query tool yourself.  (Good luck!)

All I can figure from this, is that a fallout cloud moved through the area, but the data is so raw, so unprocessed, it would take sample analysis to actually determine the various isotopes, the activity rate (per cubic meter, per square meter for deposition, per liter for precipitation,…) and they didn’t bother to take those.  So, what’s provided is essentially useless at this stage of exploration (for a non-expert lay person like myself.  More knowledgeable folks are welcome to offer their input in Comments!)

Let’s find out if their next offered set of hoops to click through has more to reveal…  Onward to ‘C.’

C.   http://iaspub.epa.gov/enviro/erams_query_v2.simple_query

“The RadNet Search Form is intended for the general public.”  Woohoo, let’s see…

To return to the path towards data for (in or near) ‘Arcata, CA’, I now explore their “Envirofacts Database of RadNet Laboratory Results”: Envirofacts’ RadNet Database (http://iaspub.epa.gov/enviro/erams_query_v2.simple_query), which reportedly contains laboratory analysis results from air monitor filters and samples of precipitation, drinking water, and milk.  Will it have anything the previous 2 tools didn’t have?  I’m curious.  EPA: “The RadNet Database includes both the current and historical data needed to estimate long-term trends in environmental radiation levels.”  Sounds good.    Just to see where that leads, I check it out.  I can search all data for a monitoring station (I choose ‘Eureka, CA’), AIR-FILTER or SURFACE WATER (I choose ‘air filter’), for Nuclides/Radiation I pick ‘Cesium-137’, from 1978 to 2012.  See if Chernobyl, some nuke tests and Fukushima show up…

The query result:   just 2 data records, one taken on New Year’s Eve 2009 and another a year later, nothing else.  The result is ‘ND, none detected’ (with a MDC, minimum detected concentration of  0.237 and 0.189 µBq (‘micro-becquerel’, which they spelled uBq)).

That’s… kind of crazy:  Apparantly this is it for 34 years of Cesium-137 monitoring of Air Filters  in Eureka, CA:  2 samples, both showing we’re in the clear.  Nice. [sarc.]

EUREKA,CA – AIR-FILTER – Cesium-137 – 1978 to 2012 – in SI units
Result: 2, both ‘None Detected’ (ND) at the end of 2009 and 2010.
Screenshot Nov 11, 2012.

I tried various other isotopes, media and date ranges, all showing the vigilance of the EPA [sarc]:  No results.  I guess the data really aren’t hiding out somewhere.

SOURCE: EPA at http://iaspub.epa.gov/enviro/erams_query_v2.simple_query Click to do your own searches. Annotations added by Michaël Van Broekhoven (Nov 2012 search)

Onward to ‘D.’ then…

D.   http://www.epa.gov/radnet/radnet-data/index.html, which is back to the basics of ‘A.’, but with some new possibilities further below in its text (see below image).  Clicking through the interactive map leads back to ‘A.’ (see above) from here:

Radnet on Nov 29, 2012 – Condensed SCreenshot of http://www.epa.gov/radnet/radnet-data/index.html
Click Image to Access EPA Radnet

In the text (not shown in above screenshot), however, there’s 2 links provided for Eureka, CA:

Just for the record, the Current Monitoring for EUREKA, CA shows these Gamma energy ranges plotted, but – interestingly enough – if you want the Beta Count, you have to click further for that.  Here’s the data for this four months (my emphasis/annotations added to Nov 29, 2012 Screenshot):

Data: http://www.epa.gov/radnet/radnet-data/radnet-eureka-bg.html#gamma
Emphasis and Comments added by me. Click image to access data from Eureka’s EPA Radnet monitor

And for BETA…  It says on the above page that, “Beta activity levels from laboratory analysis of air filters are available in Envirofacts.”   At Envirofacts, I pick Eureka, Gross Beta and the 2011-2012 period.  Here’s the Beta Gross up until October 2012 (I pasted it together to get the headers, as otherwise it wouldn’t fit:)

Selected results from a query at http://iaspub.epa.gov/enviro/erams_query_v2.simple_query Click Image to do your own.

The results for Gross Beta in this part of 2012 show fluctuations between 0.00124 and 0.00619 pCi/m^3.  (The latter converts to 0.00022903 Bq/m^3, so for 1 kilometer upward, it could possibly contain 0.22903 Bq/m^2 of Gross-Beta emitting particles, if it all came down.  Extremely low, good.  Whether or not it contains Fukushima fallout or is from naturally occurring particles can’t be figured out from these low trace amounts, it seems.)   So, while some data is readily available, you’d still have to be an expert to know what it actually means.

For comparison, when the fallout clouds began to drift over the US at the end of March 2011, the highest reading (of routine samping, they didn’t bother to do much more), for Gross Beta in Eureka Air Filer was on March 23, 2011:  0.00146 Bq/m^3, which if 1 kilometer up (x 1000) were to settle, it might have resulted in an activity deposition of (beta-emitting particulates of around (if same concentration applies to air above, of) 1.46 Bq/m^2.

Selected EPA data; Eureka, CA in March 2011 (select 2011 to 2011) for ‘Gross Beta’ in ‘Air Filter’. Increased activity from Fukushima was clearly noticeable then.

Hence it remains possible that if higher concentrations exist in soil deposits, IF precipitation brought fallout down in specific areas in heightened concentrations.  There COULD be hotspots of somewhere between 10 and 1000 Bq/m^2, so I’m GUESSING.   But the only way to find out is to go out there and take soil samples myself and have ‘m tested by a qualified scientific laboratory.  (I might actually just go do this for fun, in which case you’ll read about the results on this blog.)

(By the way, I have a DISCLAIMER for many reasons.  You should totally read it if you haven’t yet.)

Then “last but not least” (?), there’s option ‘E.’:

E.  http://www.epa.gov/radnet/radnet-data/erd.html = Environmental Radiation Data Quarterly Reports:

Environmental Radiation Data (ERD) is an electronic and print journal of EPA’s National Air and Radiation Environmental Laboratory (NAREL) in Montgomery, Alabama. It contains data from RadNet and its predecessor systems.

Ah jeez, for real?  In June 2011, the EPA apparently QUIT bringing their quarterly publication online altogether… :

Which concludes my exploration of the EPA’s Radnet.

My conclusion:  Their monitoring sucks.  There’s so little data, nothing can be concluded, certainly not what they claim (“no levels of concern” anywhere at any time).  It DOES remains entirely possible that no “levels of concerns” (I assume that’s what I’d call trace amounts so low that health effects will never stand out of the statistical “noise”, even over long-time exposure for the most sensitive of people) have been reached, but without knowing where that level starts, and with so few samples taken (often none at all), it seems, to say the least, a bit preposterous to attempt to quell concerns with what amounts to almost no information.

I’ll leave it at that for now.


Added later:

4/12/2013: Found some 2011-2012 California Dept. of Public Health data for Eureka, see HERE.

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One Response to Has the EPA’s RadNet been Designed as an Obstacle Course? (w/ Post-Fukushima Radiation Data for Eureka, CA)

  1. Pingback: Fingerprints of an ongoing Cover-Up? EPA data makes Fukushima look over 1000% less serious than Chernobyl… | Not All Alleged Is Apparent…

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