Radioactive Milk a Threat —if You Drink 58K Cups
Heath officials blowing things way out of proportion in Japan: researcher
By Matt Cantor,  Newser User
Posted Mar 22, 2011 11:01 AM CDT
Hanako Hasegawa milks a cow in Iitate, northern Japan, Tuesday, March 22, 2011, following the March 11 earthquake and tsunami.   (AP Photo/The Yomiuri Shimbun, Takuya Yoshino)

(Newser) – Japan is finding elevated radiation levels in milk, spinach, and water—scary, right? Richard Knox at NPR sits down with RPI health physicist Peter Caracappa to crunch some numbers about what those levels mean. The gist:

  • The max radiation a US nuclear worker is allowed to be exposed to in a year is 50 millisieverts; one sievert of radiation will raise your lifetime cancer risk by 4%.

  • To get a sievert's worth of radiation, you'd have to down 58,000 glasses of contaminated milk.
  • To hit the same level, you'd have to be Popeye and eat 820 pounds of spinach, or about 2.25 pounds per day for a year.
“The long and the short of it is that we're not going to be able to detect any statistically significant change in the cancer rate for anyone as a result of the events in Japan,” Caracappa notes.