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US scientists track rise and fall of Japan radiation

Image: Bay Area RadNet detector
A RadNet radiation monitor rises from the roof of the Bay Area Air Quality District offices in San Francisco on March 16. The Environmental Protection Agency deployed additional radiation detectors in areas on the West Coast to track radiation from Japan's Fukushima nuclear disaster.Justin Sullivan / Getty Images file
/ Source: The Associated Press

A spike in radioactive sulfur from the damaged Japanese nuclear plant was detected in California in late March, but researchers say it posed no threat to health.

While the amount was higher than normal background levels, it remained small, said Mark Thiemens of the University of California at San Diego.

"The levels we recorded aren't a concern for human health. In fact, it took sensitive instruments, measuring radioactive decay for hours after lengthy collection of the particles to precisely measure the amount of radiation," said Thiemens. He is lead author of a report on the findings, published in Tuesday's edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Japan's Fukushima nuclear plant was damaged in a tsunami on March 11, and extremely low amounts of radioactive iodine later showed up in milk sampled in the states of California, Colorado, Connecticut and Massachusetts over the following weeks. Environmental Protection Agency officials said the levels were so minuscule they were not harmful to public health. EPA scaled back its monitoring efforts to routine levels in May.

The new report focused on sulfur measurements taken at Scripps Institution of Oceanography in La Jolla, Calif., March 28-April 1.

While there was no threat from the radiation, Thiemens explained in an email that tracking the sulfur helps researchers understand the movement of particles in the atmosphere.

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