In the face of rising concern over the possibility of radiation from Japan’s damaged nuclear reactors reaching the West coast, air quality officials Friday visited a radiation sensor site to show the public that there is currently no such threat — and there’s not likely to be.
In Anaheim, Philip Fine, atmospheric measurements manager for the South Coast Air Quality Management District, checked his watch by a truck-sized shipping container surrounded by instruments the district uses to test the air. Behind him, a metal box slightly taller than a minifridge hummed away, perched on a wooden pallet near a blue port-o-potty.
The fenced off enclosure sits at the edge of an elementary school, and as the metal minifridge tested particles trapped from the air for signs of dangerous radiation levels, children screamed a few feet away, hurling Frisbees and kicking footballs across the grass.
This station is part of RadNet, one of the Environmental Protection Agency’s network of 100 stations across the nation that test radiation levels on a regular basis. And odd as it may seem, schools are often ideal places for these monitoring outposts, Fine said.
"We often go to schools for our air monitoring sites," Fine said. "The selfish reason is that they don’t usually charge us and we get good access," he said. "But it’s also because if there are any impacts, children are a susceptible population … We’d like to know what they’re being exposed to."
Fine, wearing a suit and a serious green tie, said he doesn’t come out to this station often – the atmospheric measurements manager is responsible for a network of about 35 monitoring stations that look at carbon dioxide, particulates and other air quality measurements in several counties, and the radiation sensor sends much of its data off automatically to Environmental Protection Agency offices.
On Friday, he was here simply to explain the situation and calm fears. "I know the public’s concerned," Fine said. "They need to be reassured."
Fine said he knew parents who had pulled their children out of school. As a father of a 6-year-old daughter, he didn’t see the point, and has tried to explain as much to his friends.
"They tend to trust me — even though I’m a government official," he quipped. "More than the public does."
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