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Radioactive Contamination Still Detected in Chernobyl Crops

It has been 35 years since the 1986 nuclear accident in Chernobyl, and yet, a recent study showed that the crops in the regions near Chernobyl are still contaminated, especially with Strontium-90 (90Sr). Strontium-90 is one of the major radioactive products from nuclear accidents or weapons, and it is exceptionally dangerous because of its chemical similarity to calcium. When Strontium-90 enters a body, the body uses Strontium-90 in place of calcium, which results in a huge accumulation in the bone and bone marrow, and cancers in bone and the surrounding tissues. However, due to the complexity and cost of detecting Strontium-90, the Ukrianian government stopped monitoring its levels in goods in 2013. This study highlights the importance of reinstating strict monitoring efforts in affected communities.
In the study, scientists collected grain samples near Chernobyl between 2011 and 2019, and analyzed their radioactivity concentration, which is the amount of radioactivity per unit volume of sample. They discovered that the radioactivity concentration of Strontium-90 in 45% of the samples was above the official safe limits set by the Ministry of Health of Ukraine, with no evidence of a declining trend over time. They also collected and analyzed wood samples in the same regions, and found that about three-quarters of the samples are contaminated with high levels of Strontium-90. Many households, as well as industrial plants, use wood as fuel, and the ashes generated from them may contain an even higher radioactivity concentration. Therefore, the people living in these communities may be exposed to radioactive Strontium-90 via both ingestion of contaminated food products and inhalation of radioactive ashes from fuel.
Overall, this study reveals the persistent severity and pervasiveness of Strontium-90 contamination, even after so many years. The study also underscores the importance of comprehensive monitoring programs, which is necessary for understanding the different ways local residents can be exposed to Strontium-90. The authors of the paper urge the Ukrainian government to reinstate environmental and food monitoring programs, and to ensure their proper finance and implementation.
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