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Health Phys. 1996 Aug;71(2):167-78.

Radionuclides in fishes and mussels from the Farallon Islands Nuclear Waste Dump Site, California.

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  • 1Division of Environmental Studies, University of California, Davis, CA 95616, USA.


The Farallon Islands Nuclear Waste Dump Site (FINWDS), approximately 30 miles west of San Francisco, California, received at least 500 TBq encapsulated in more than 47,500 containers from approximately 1945 to 1970. During several seasons in 1986/87 deep-sea bottom feeding fishes (Dover sole = Microstomus pacificus; sablefish = Anoplopoma fimbria; thornyheads = Sebastolobus spp.) and intertidal mussels (Mytilus californianus) were collected from the vicinity of the FINWDS and from comparable depths at a reference site near Point Arena, CA. Tissues were analyzed for several radionuclides (137Cs, 238Pu, 239+240Pu, and 241Am). Radionuclide concentrations for fish mussel tissue ranged from non-detectable to 4,340 mBq kg(-1) wet weight, with the following means for Farallon fishes: 137Cs = 1,110 mBq kg(-1); 238Pu = 390 mBq kg(-1); 239+240Pu = 130 mBq kg(-1); and 241Am = 1,350 mBq kg(-1). There were no statistically significant differences in the radionuclide concentrations observed in samples from the Farallon Islands compared to reference samples from Point Arena, CA. Concentrations of both 238Pu and 241Am in fish tissues (from both sites) were notably higher than those reported in literature from any other sites world-wide, including potentially contaminated sites. Concentrations of 239+24OPu from both sites were typical of low values found at some contaminated sites worldwide. These results show approximately 10 times higher concentrations of 239+240Pu and approximately 40-50 times higher concentrations of 238Pu than those values reported for identical fish species from 1977 collections at the FINWDS. Radionuclide concentrations were converted to a hypothetical per capita annual radionuclide intake for adults, yielding the following values of annual Committed Effective Dose Equivalent (CEDE) from ionizing radiation emitted from these radionuclides: 0.000 mSv y(-1) for 137Cs, 0.009 mSv Y(-1) for 228Pu, and 0.003 mSv y(-1) for 239+240Pu. For 241Am, projected CEDE for Dover sole, sablefish, and thornyheads were higher, averaging 0.03 mSv y(-1). The observed isotopic ratio of 238Pu/239+240Pu was about 4 (which is two orders of magnitude higher than the ratio of 0.03 associated with fallout from weapons tests and accidental releases in the north temperate zone of the earth), indicating a considerably higher environmental mobilization for 238Pu compared to 239+240Pu. Likewise, the observed ratio of 241Am/239+240Pu of about 30 was nearly two orders of magnitude higher than the fallout ratio of 0.43 in the north temperate zone of the earth. The projected ionizing radiation CEDE to people from the ingestion of fish with fallout radionuclides was three times higher for 241Am than from the plutonium isotopes.

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