Fukushima Radiation and Tea

Some say that drinking green tea helps protect you against the effects of radiation, but what if your tea includes a dash of cesium?

At a recent tea market I asked some questions about radiation in teas grown in Japan. But when I spoke with people from Aoi Tea and Rishi Tea, both indicated that their teas were safe.

The people I spoke to reassured me that there wasn’t a reason to have concern about radiation from Fukushima’s ongoing leak having an effect on the tea I drink here in Vancouver, exports from tea harvests since the earthquake last spring.
Rishi Tea is a conscious company featuring artisan, organic and fair trade teas. Markets, said Benjamin Harrison, co-owner of Rishi, were still stable and there was no concern. They monitor all their teas over and above the required government tests and found nothing to be concerned about. I wonder if they tested for radiation? In addition, at the outset, before export, the Japanese Government did very rigorous testing of all products, recalling or holding back tea grown in the affected areas. At Rishi, they have seen no decline in supply at all, and the world tea market for Japanese tea appears to be functioning as it did before the terrible earthquake and nuclear plant disaster.

Mount Fuji marks the center of Japan. From the Aoi Tea specialists in matcha, the word was that their fine tea plantations are  south of Mount Fuji. The damage that occurred was north of Mount Fuji. In addition, Chieko Yamamoto, VP and COO of Aoi, said that Japan is especially vigilant about radiation, and has been for decades, so there was trust that Japan would not approve any radioactive tea goods for export world wide, let alone for use within the country itself. At Aoi they were confident in continuing with business as usual, offering their fine matcha and green tea to the world.

So, as in Dune, the spice continues to flow.  And I, for one, am grateful as I truly enjoy the subtle matcha and its beautiful clarity.

But I can’t help wondering about the not-so-perceivable effects of still-ongoing radiation leak. Yesterday I saw a television drama that proved an art forgery by analysis of the linseed oil. It seems that linseed oil-based paints created after the atom bomb all have trace radioactive elements. Surely the sensitive tea plant would reveal similar effects. Today’s quick google search brought up many articles on the topic – here are only a few:

Sunday, Sep. 4, 2011

Cesium over limit found in tea using Saitama, Chiba leaves

Kyodo

Radioactive cesium exceeding the legal limit has been detected in four tea products that reached the market and were made with tea leaves from Saitama and Chiba prefectures, a recent health ministry inspection showed.
One of the products, using tea leaves from Chiba Prefecture, contained 2,720 becquerels of cesium per kilogram, far above the government-set limit of 500 becquerels, the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry said Friday.
The three other products, made with tea leaves from Saitama Prefecture, were found to contain between 800 and 1,530 becquerels of cesium. It is the first time cesium exceeding the maximum limit has been detected in Saitama tea leaves.
The cesium levels were recorded during snap inspections of farm products by the ministry.
The Chiba and Saitama prefectural governments plan to recall all the products from store shelves. A ministry official said the products do not pose an immediate health risk to consumers.
-Japan Times Online

And in the NY Post:

Japan’s green tea contaminated with radiation

Last Updated: 2:21 PM, June 9, 2011

TOKYO — Japanese green tea, esteemed around the world for its purity and health-enhancing properties, has become contaminated with radiation, as fallout from the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant continues to blight Japan’s agricultural heartlands, authorities revealed Thursday.

Authorities admitted for the first time that green tea from Japan’s biggest tea-growing area, the Shizuoka prefecture, contains radiation higher than the officially-permitted level. The contamination has opened a furious argument among local and national officials about how to measure the radiation, and what constitutes a safe level of contamination.

Dried leaves from the year’s first harvest in the Honyama area of Shizuoka were found to contain radioactive cesium at a level of 679 becquerels per kilogram, above the permitted maximum of 500 becquerels. But the discovery was made by chance, and the authorities admit that earlier consignments, which were not examined and have gone to the market, may have also been contaminated.

Limits on the sale of tea from areas closer to Fukushima have been put in place, but Shizuoka is to green tea what the Champagne region of France is to sparkling wine, and the effect of the news will be devastating.

Japan produced 95,000 tons (86,000 tonnes) of dried tea in 2009, and 42 percent of that was from Shizuoka. The prefecture, supported by the ministry of agriculture, has insisted on carrying out radiation measurements in such a way as to minimize the suggestion that its precious product is dangerous.

The problem is that, unlike other vegetables, tea leaves are processed before going on sale and are not consumed directly. When fresh leaves are dried, the removal of water concentrates the radioactive elements to five times the former level.

But when they are infused in a tea pot the amount of radiation in the resulting brew is between 30 and 45 times less, according to the agriculture ministry.

The Shizuoka government wants the 500 becquerels limit to apply to the less intensely radioactive fresh leaves. But the health ministry argues that consumers might swallow dried leaves in a cup of tea, as well as in products derived from tea, such as green tea ice cream, and that the 500-becquerel limit for fresh vegetables must also apply to tea.

The high reading was discovered not by the tea grower or the local government, but by a mail order tea company in Tokyo that carried out its own measurements.

Read more: http://www.nypost.com/

Don’t stop drinking your green tea for its wonderful health benefits, but I recommend that you do your own intensive search, and if possible, ask your tea supplier for truthful answers on this important topic.

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3 thoughts on “Fukushima Radiation and Tea

  1. Having detectable traces of radioactive compounds is not the same as tea or food being unsafe.

    The major source of radiation exposure (and associated risk of radiation poisoning or cancer) for most people in developed countries is radon gas, a naturally-occurring gas. As buildings are better sealed to improve insulation, the gas enters through the basement, and accumulates indoors.

  2. Thank you CAROL.
    The comments from Tokyo. English is weak.
    I am glad that CAROL has an interest in Japanese tea.
    And thank you for loving Japanese tea.
    But I do not know whether the Japanese government is correct with internal exposure standards.
    So, please remember the Japanese tea.
    I believe that Sencha tea to drink with confidence.

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