Forget Fukushima, we have our own nuclear concerns right here at home and the effects could be reaching inside your refrigerator.
Last year we were preparing to return to Yakima, Washington for a much anticipated camping trip. We had vacationed there 6 months before and were captivated by the beauty of the fertile fields and soft desert hills which somersaulted into the distance. Land was cheap and this could easily be an area to put down roots deep into the rich soil to build our homestead. Only three hours from the bustling Seattle core there was farmland all around and fruit stands overflowing with a variety of locally grown produce. Even the plots of land boasted their wares proudly with signs identifying what was growing within their borders; apples, potatoes, grapes, cherries, pears… The varieties were endless in this region. Moving here was going to be the American dream for us until I found that article. The title mentioned a higher rate of birth defects in Washington State and piqued my interest as to why. Reading though the article left me with more questions than answers and a sick feeling in my stomach as I read Benton, Franklin and Yakima were the three counties affected by the major spike.The article discussed possible causes being a lack of Folic Acid which can cause Neural Tube Defects such as the severe cases of anencephaly being found. They also mentioned the affects of pesticides and nitrates which remain on food and pollute the soil and water systems. Finally they glossed over the proximity to Hanford which was the storage facility for the largest amount of nuclear waste in all of the United States and by the way, it is known that some of the 177 tanks are currently leaking.
I was floored. Why was I hearing about the possible effects of Fukushima reaching North America all over the news, but I had never heard about what was going on in Washington? I continued to find articles online and the more information I found the more I became aware of how dire the situation is for all of us. Our dreams of moving to Yakima were dashed and we decided to cancel our vacation.
Hanford was a modest agricultural community in Benton County that was condemned in 1943 by the government to build a nuclear site which was to be a vital contributor to the Manhattan Project. From the nuclear threat of World War 2 to the continued concerns of the Cold War, Hanford supplied a majority of the plutonium for America. The last reactor, reactor N, was finally decommissioned in 1987 but 56 million gallons of liquid radioactive waste remains. The tanks were never meant to last this long so it is not surprising that they are breaking down. It is currently known that some of the underground tanks are leaking waste into the environment. There is conflicting information to whether or not the waste has contaminated ground water located 200-300 feet below the surface but we know that the water from the Columbia river was used to cool reactors for more than a decade and after only a short retention period, polluted waters were released back into the river. The river is 1,243 miles long, and its largest tributary is the Snake River. This waterway’s reach extends into seven U.S. states and one Canadian province.
All of Hanford’s high-level radioactive waste is supposed to be cleaned up by 2047, but a lot can happen while we wait. As if the continued leaking into the soil was not enough, there have been events that have polluted the air and of course the water. How is it that this radioactive atrocity has not affected our food supply?
The three counties that have reported the heightened birth defects are part of the top ten counties in all of Washington in terms of market value based on the information supplied on the Washington State Department of Agricultural Site. The majority of crops produced there are apples, potatoes, milk, grapes and hay. Based on the 2012 Census of Agriculture the county of Benton (and home to Hanford) had 1,509 producing farms.
300 miles from Hanford I walk into a local grocery store. There is a lady offering samples of three types of pears. I nibble at the sweet, grainy, flesh and inquire where they were grown. She tells me Washington.
I write the post not to create fear but to be thought provoking.
Where does your food come from? How was it grown? What has it been exposed to?