More Radioactive Fish Found in New England River

Jul 6, 2010
Oddly, that big cooling tower ain't the problem... (Photo: Tobo/Creative Commons)

And you thought mercury poisoning from fish sounded dangerous.

On Friday, the Vermont Department of Health confirmed that more fish in the Connecticut River have tested positive for a radioactive isotope linked to leukemia and other cancers, the Times Argus reports.

It’s the second time since May that fish with traces of the radioactive isotope strontium-90 have been found, and here’s the catch: officials say it’s not related to the nearby nuclear power plant that runs the river’s water through its machinery as part of everyday operations.

The radioactive fish were first found at the end of May. At that time, the nearby nuclear plant, Vermont Yankee, was in the midst of a cleanup of another radioactive material called tritium. ABC News reported that tritium was said to be leaking from the 38-year-old plant.

Tritium was found at levels unsafe for drinking water. Radioactive contamination was also found in nearby soil.  

However, health officials say that the plant does not appear to be the cause of the radioactive fish. Research suggests that, though Vermont Yankee could leak strontium-90 and is currently being tested for it, the timing and levels of the isotope in the fish suggests these are just “background levels” that fish and other animals have been accruing for decades.

Um… accruing from where, one might ask? Nuclear weapons tests and other fallout disasters, like Chernobyl, officials say.

"Concentrations of Sr-90 detected in the inedible portions of these fish are in the range of what would be expected as a result of fallout from nuclear weapons testing in the 1950s, and the Chernobyl release in 1986," reads a statement from the Vermont Health Department.

By inedible, officials mean that strontium-90 collects almost exclusively in fish bones, like calcium. Well… radioactive calcium.

But that doesn’t mean you can’t eat the Connecticut River's catch of the day. According to the ABC piece, strontium-90 has been collecting in all kinds of fish all over the globe. In terms of consumption, mercury is a much bigger concern.

So while officials investigate whether Vermont Yankee is contributing to the accrual by leaking strontium-90 into the river, there’s no restriction yet on fishing in the Connecticut.

Meanwhile, if you eat fish, you've probably already been in close contact with trace elements of the isotope. So heed this tip for reducing radioactive exposure: don't eat the bones.

Photo: Tobo/Creative Commons via Flickr

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