Radioactive iodine possibly from Japan discovered in local rainwater

Radioactive iodine possibly from Japan discovered in local rainwater

David Simpson and Naz Fallahian

BU physics and engineering technology faculty David Simpson and Naz Fallahian found trace amounts of radioactive Iodine-131 (I-131) in recent rainfall collected in Danville. A three-liter sample of rain was collected in Danville on March 23, 2011, and the Iodine-131 was detected after several hours of testing the next day.

Because I-131 has a half-life of eight days and is not normally found in the environment, its source is most likely the Fukushima reactor in Japan. The results were reported to the Pennsylvania Bureau of Radiation Protection, which is also monitoring I-131 in rain water.

The radioactive iodine poses no health threat and would be undetectable in a sample collected from the river or stream, where it would be more diluted. In the past week, I-131 has also been discovered in rainfall in many other states.

The water sample was analyzed in BU’s High Purity Germanium Detector, a device that can identify and quantify trace amounts of radioactive materials in the environment. Currently, samples are being taken from streams that drain the Marcellus Shale area to verify current levels of radioactivity and identify potential future releases of radioactive materials due to natural gas drilling.