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You are here: Home > Monitoring Radionuclides in Drinking Water and Food: Routinely and After a Release

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Monitoring Radionuclides in Drinking Water and Food: Routinely and After a Release

  • Various US federal and state agencies are responsible for routine monitoring of drinking water and certain foods, including milk, for the presence of various contaminants including radionuclides.
    • Which agency has jurisdiction depends on whether food, water, or milk is being monitored for contamination.
    • Enhanced monitoring may be done if radiation or other kinds of hazardous incidents occur.
    • Agencies also establish policies for intervening if certain levels are identified.
    • Federal and state entities (and other countries) may have different monitoring and intervention policies.
  • What is measured?
    • Level of radiation in food or water, in Bq/kg or Bq/liter; or pCi/kg or pCi/liter
  • How is the measured level of contamination used?
    • The goal is to detect levels of radioactive contaminants, which, if ingested, could lead to individuals or populations receiving a predetermined radiation dose (in units of rem or mSv) which should be avoided.
    • That predetermined dose to be avoided is known as the Protective Action Guides (PAG).
    • Various national and international organizations have studied risks from radiation, and their data have been used to establish PAGs.
  • Protective Action Guides (PAGs)
  • Protective Actions
    • Are formal prevention or mitigation strategies recommended by officials to reduce or avoid the chance of individuals or populations reaching a PAG (dose level).
    • May include
      • Interdiction of foods, milk, and water
      • Shelter-in-place
      • Evacuation
      • Medical countermeasures, like potassium iodide
  • Note especially that
    • Different units are used to express
      • Levels of contaminants (in units of Bq/kg or Bq/liter; pCi/kg or pCi/liter)
      • Doses to people used in PAGs (in units of rem or mSv)
    • Various agencies and countries may have different
      • Allowable levels of contamination for specific isotopes in water, or milk, or food
      • Protective Action Guides (PAGs)
      • Methods of implementing Protective Actions
  • Derived Intervention Levels (DILs): set by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA)
  • Maximum Contamination Levels (MCLs): set by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)
  • Monitoring of milk
    • Various agencies monitor and regulate radiation in milk.
    • EPA conducts routine radiological monitoring of milk under its RADNET program.
      • In emergencies, enhanced and targeted monitoring of specific concerns is likely, and levels of concern would be reported to agencies with regulatory responsibility.
    • The FDA also does routine, periodic sampling of some but not all U.S. milk products through its "Market Basket Survey".
      • FDA has regulatory jurisdiction over the safety, labeling and identity of milk and milk products in interstate commerce. In emergencies, enhanced and targeted monitoring of specific concerns is likely.
    • States have jurisdiction over those facilities located within their territory.


US Department of Health & Human Services     
U.S. Department of Health & Human Services Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response National Library of Medicine