Ukrainian cow milk has ‘five times safe level of radioactivity’, study finds

Experts warn dangerous contamination will continue until at least 2040 without action

Tom Barnes
Sunday 10 June 2018 13:00 BST
Ukrainian cow milk has ‘five times safe levels of radioactivity’, a study has found

More than 30 years after the Chernobyl disaster, milk in some parts of Ukraine still has radioactivity levels up to five times the official safe limit, new research suggests.

Scientists sampled cows' milk from private farms and homes in the Rivne region, about 125 miles from the site of the catastrophic explosion at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant in 1986.

They found levels of radioactive caesium in milk above Ukraine's safe limit for adults of 100 Becquerel per litre (Bq/L) at six of 14 settlements studied, and above the children's limit of 40 Bq/L at eight sites.

The highest levels found were about 500 Bq/L - five times over the limit for adults and more than 12 times that for children.

The study was carried out at the University of Exeter and the Ukrainian Institute of Agricultural Radiology.

“More than 30 years after the Chernobyl disaster, people are still routinely exposed to radioactive caesium when consuming locally produced staple foods, including milk, in Chernobyl-affected areas of Ukraine,” said Dr Iryna Labunska, of the University of Exeter.

“Many people in the area we studied keep cows for milk, and children are the main consumers of that milk.

“Though the level of soil contamination in the studied areas is not extremely high, radioactive caesium continues to accumulate in milk and other foods.

“The residents of these villages are chronically exposed to radioactivity that presents health risks to almost every system in the body - especially among children.”

Scientists believe the Chernobyl disaster could be affecting cows more than three decades later
Scientists believe the Chernobyl disaster could be affecting cows more than three decades later (PA)

The researchers claim simple protective measures could be taken to bring radiation exposure levels below limits at a cost of less than 10 euros (£8.80) per person per year for the 8,300 people living in the six villages with the highest contamination.

Such measures include administering a caesium binder called Ferrocyn to cows, mineral fertilisation of potato fields and feeding pigs with uncontaminated fodder.

The cost of this would decrease each year as radiation levels fall, scientists say.

However, they warn if no action is taken, milk contamination will continue to exceed the 100 Bq/L adult limit in parts of Ukraine until at least 2040.

“The Ukrainian government has taken some of these measures in the past, but that stopped in 2009,” Dr Labunska said.

“Government and international monitoring needs to take place, along with help for people affected by this radiation.

“This situation should also act as a warning and a reminder of just how long the legacy of nuclear accidents can be.

“Without adequate countermeasures, what may now seem a purely historical event will remain a daily reality for those communities most impacted.”

Additional reporting by PA

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