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Traces of radioactive iodine are found in herd’s milk

April 1, 2011 |  3:38 pm

Trace amounts of radioactive iodine have been found in the milk of cows in a herd used for teaching purposes at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, state officials said Friday.

The levels of iodine-131-- a substance that does not occur naturally -- are very low, officials said.

"People need to realize these are trace amounts that do not pose a threat to public health," said Mike Sicilia, a spokesman for the California Department of Public Health

Similar amounts of iodine-131 have been detected in milk from the Spokane, Wash., area.

Milk is tested every month for radioactivity in San Luis Obispo, where dairy cows graze not far from the Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant. But since the radiation leaks at Japan's Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant, testing has been performed weekly.

The state tests milk every three months in Humboldt County, the site of a defunct nuclear facility.

Sicilia said the trace amounts of iodine-131 were not surprising, given the increased radioactivity that had previously been found in California air samples -- also at levels deemed harmless by government and academic experts.

Michael Payne, director of the Western Institute for Food Safety and Security at UC Davis, said there was nothing to fear in the milk.

"I would drink these milk samples without a second thought," he said.

-- Steve Chawkins