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Date: August 06, 2014

UVic oceanographer leads new radioactive monitoring network

University of Victoria chemical oceanographer Jay Cullen is leading the formation of a new marine radioactivity monitoring network that will engage scientists in Canada and the US, health experts, non-governmental organizations—and citizen scientists along the British Columbia coast.

The InFORM Network—which stands for Integrated Fukushima Ocean Radionuclide Monitoring—is being funded by $630,000 over three years by the Marine Environmental Observation Prediction and Response Network (MEOPAR).

Since the 2011 tsunami and Fukushima-Daiichi nuclear disaster in Japan, there’s been widespread concern along the coast of western North America about the potential danger posed by low-level radioactivity crossing the Pacific Ocean.

“There’s great public demand for information about the impact of the Fukushima disaster on the marine ecosystem and on the health of British Columbians,” says Cullen. “Our goal is to provide the public with the best information possible about risks to the environment and their health.”

Research partners in the network include: Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts; Health Canada; the University of Ottawa; the University of British Columbia; and Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO).

Ocean circulation models disagree on the timing and concentrations of radioactive elements expected off BC. The radioactive plume of seawater arrived along our coast in June 2013, and levels detected so far don’t pose a health risk.

“In the next few years, as the highest concentrations from this plume arrive, we need to know what the concentrations are and what kind of risks they pose,” says Cullen. “And we won’t know that unless we monitor the situation properly.”

The network will involve NGOs such as the Clayoquot Biosphere Trust, the Georgia Strait Alliance, the Raincoast Education Society, the Living Oceans Society and the David Suzuki Foundation, which will help with public outreach, information transfer, and recruitment and training of citizen scientists.

The plan is to set up 10 to 15 community sites along the BC coast where volunteer citizen scientists will collect water and seafood samples monthly or bimonthly for analysis.

Those samples will supplement measurements already being taken offshore by DFO and an existing citizen scientist network coordinated by Woods Hole that extends from the Bering Strait to San Diego.

“End-user involvement is a key pillar of this network,” says Cullen. “By engaging directly with the public, we’re inviting those with a stake and interest in marine environmental risk assessment to get involved.”

Cullen says results will be disseminated online and through community town hall meetings up and down the coast. He’s currently setting up an InFORM website, and results will also be posted on the www.ourradioactiveocean.org/ website hosted by Woods Hole.

MEOPAR is a team of Canadian researchers in the natural and social sciences who are trying to better understand and predict the impact of marine hazards on human activities and ecosystems. It’s hosted by Dalhousie University in Nova Scotia and funded by the federal Networks of Centre of Excellence Program.

For more information on the InFORM network, visit www.FukushimaInform.ca and Facebook, follow @FukushimainFORM or contact Jay Cullen at jcullen@uvic.ca.

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Media contacts:

Dr. Jay Cullen (School of Earth and Ocean Sciences) at 250-472-4353 or jcullen@uvic.ca
Suzanne Ahearne (University Communications + Marketing) at 250-721-6139 or sahearne@uvic.ca

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