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Fallout in the Food

Project Duration:
June 2005 - October 2006
Implementation Partners:
Veterinary Radiological Laboratory of Bryansk
Location:
Bryansk, Russia
Region:
Eastern Europe & Central Asia,
Pollutants:
Radioactivity
Potentially affected people:
500,000

Problem

Project Completion Report (PDF)

One of the most infamous symbols of life-threatening pollution is the Chernobyl reactor, which suffered a meltdown in April 1986.  To this day, the settlements closest to the reactor site remain depopulated ghost towns; however, the explosion sent a radioactive cloud over most of Europe, and many regions received a fallout level that, while not quite serious enough to require permanent evacuation, is still more than enough to blight local ecosystems and human communities with radiation poisoning. 

110 miles away, in the region of Bryansk, nearly 2 million acres received a heavy dose of radioactive pollution, primarily Cesium-137.  Hundreds of thousands of people still inhabit this largely agricultural area, and the greatest danger they face is the ingestion of radioactive particles (or radionuclides) that have accumulated in the meat, fat, and milk of local cattle, as well as the produce from local farms and gardens.  In some provinces over 20% of all dairy milk is dangerously contaminated.  Children receive the highest doses of cesium, as they tend to ingest more dairy products than adults and their still-growing bones absorb more pollutants from their food

Solution

Special chemicals known as sorbents bond to radioactive particles and remove them from an organic substrate (such as milk and meat).  The sorbent mixture known as “Bifezh” is particularly suited for preventing radioactive cesium from being transported further up the food chain.  With enough of these sorbents, food in the Bryansk region can be rehabilitated and rendered safe for consumption again.

Results

Blacksmith collaborated with a local partner, the Veterinary Radiological Laboratory of Bryansk, to procure chemical sorbents and use them for food rehabilitation and safety treatment in six badly polluted districts of Bryansk.  Beginning in September 2005, the groups used 1.5 tons of Bifezh sorbent mix in food rehabilitation, enough to clean 350 tons of milk.  Radioactivity levels in the treated milk decreased by over 90%, to levels that were safe for human consumption—thus significantly helping to reduce the body burden of Cs-137 among local citizens. 

Follow Up

With the food rehabilitation technique a proven success, what remains is to repeat the project on a larger scale.  Blacksmith estimates that with a steady annual supply of about 20 tons of sorbents, it could purify over 5,000 tons of milk and 1,500 tons of meat annually.