Notice to: Farmers, distributors and food processors
This portion of the Emergency Information section outlines plans to protect the food supply in the event of a nuclear emergency. Information in this section includes the following.
Public warning process
The State of Michigan is responsible for evaluating the severity of a nuclear accident and ordering actions to protect the public and the food supply. If you live within 10 miles of the Cook Nuclear Plant, your first warning may be the sounding of local emergency sirens. If you hear a siren, tune to a radio or tv station for emergency information.
If you live farther than 10 miles from the plant, you will be notified by area radio and TV stations, if necessary, or by a Cooperative Extension Service official.
If you have questions about a real or potential emergency, please contact the Michigan Department of Agriculture.
Who pays for lost or destroyed farm products?
Farmers, food processors and distributors could face serious financial losses following a nuclear accident. However, federal law ensures that such losses will be reimbursed. The Price-Anderson Act, enacted by Congress in 1957, requires that the operators of nuclear-power plants and certain other nuclear facilities purchase nuclear liability insurance policies for the protection of the public. As a result, no-fault insurance pools are in place to pay claims promptly without lengthy court hearings. Claimants need only prove that the injury or property damage resulted from the nuclear emergency.
Commercial insurance policies exclude coverage for nuclear accidents because Price-Andersons provisions make such coverage unnecessary.
How contamination can occur
Dust-sized radioactive particles released into the air during a nuclear accident could fall on fruits, vegetables, or grains which could enter the food supply and be eaten by the public. For example, dairy cows and goats could eat grasses covered with radioactive iodine 131. Traces of the iodine could be passed through to the milk and then to consumers. Iodine 131 has the potential to concentrate in the human thyroid gland where it could cause thyroid cancer.
Actions which may be neccessary to protect the food supply
Data collection helps determine protective actions
Following an accidental release of radioactive material, emergency workers from the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality and the Michigan Department of Agriculture will collect air, water and soil samples to determine the existence, amount, and location of any contamination. Samples of milk, forage, crops and processed foods also may be obtained. Field data and other factors will be used by the state to determine the best course of action to protect the public and the food supply.
Because naturally occurring radioactive materials can always be found in the environment, American Electric Power and the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality conduct a continuous program to sample air, water, milk, vegetation, and animal life near the Cook Nuclear Plant. In this way, they are able to establish a baseline for comparison in the event of a nuclear emergency.
The area designated for post-accident environmental sampling could extend as far as 50 miles from the plant site. Specific instructions regarding the collection and testing process will be made available to farmers, food processors, and distributors in the affected area by the Michigan Department of Agriculture. (back to actions)
Sheltering in an emergency
If you are told to take shelter because of a nuclear emergency, limit your outdoor activities as much as possible. For specific actions you and your family should take for personal protection read this page if ordered to take shelter and this page if ordered to evacuate. Steps to protect the food supply are different and are outlined in this section of the site.(back to actions)
What to do if an evacuation is ordered
If you live within 10 miles of the Cook Plant, you could be asked to evacuate the area in a nuclear accident. If you must leave your animals, be sure to provide enough well water and feed to sustain them until they can be cared for again. You may be permitted, at the direction of the state, to reenter the evacuated area temporarily to tend to the needs of your farm. You will receive instructions on what routes to use, safety precautions, and decontamination procedures. Your Cooperative Extension Service agent can provide animal health and feeding guidance.(back to actions)
Protection of livestock
It is essential that priority be given to protecting dairy animals because radioactive materials can quickly enter the food chain through milk and other dairy products. If sheltering is required, shelter these animals first.
Shelter livestock in covered barns or sheds unless extremely hot weather or other factors make this impossible. Provide your animals stored feed such as hay, silage and bagged grain. Whenever possible, animals should be provided water drawn from wells. Open sources such as ponds, creeks, or rivers should be avoided if possible. These protective measures will minimize the amount of radioactive material available to your animals. Since evacuation of farm animals will not normally be possible after a nuclear accident, sheltering and the use of stored feed and well water are the most effective means of limiting contamination.
Poultry are more resistant to radioactive contamination than other farm animals. Since most are raised in confined facilities and receive stored feed and well water, they can be sheltered in their existing structures. If your poultry animals are normally kept outdoors, they should be brought inside if possible. Egg shells provide natural protection from contamination. Generally, eggs will be safe to eat after the shells are washed to remove surface contaminants.
If animals have been exposed to radioactive particles carried by winds or rain from the accident site, they should be washed with uncontaminated water before being brought into a shelter. (back to actions)
Save your animals
Do not destroy any animals unless directed to do so by state or federal authorities. Do not slaughter any animals except for immediate food needs. Generally, animals that are exposed to radioactive contaminants and rain water will survive and may be marketable and safe for human consumption. Do not allow animals to graze in open fields unless you are advised to do so by the State of Michigan, your Cooperative Extension Service agent or another governmental official. (back to actions)
Only in extreme emergencies may contaminated grain or hay be used for feed. If you must use feed which has been identified as contaminated, you may be able to reduce the level of contamination. For example, if the feed was stored outside, the contamination may be greater at or near the surface of the feed pile. Removal of the top portion may greatly reduce the amount of contamination present.
Do not dispose of contaminated feed or hay because it may be salvageable over time. You should, however, keep it separated from non-contaminated feed supplies and animals so the contamination is not spread. Contact your Cooperative Extension Service agent for guidelines. (back to actions)
Store as much water as possible for livestock. Cover open wells, tanks and other storage containers to prevent or limit contamination. Close off the intakes from contaminated water sources (ponds, streams, or cisterns) to prevent circulation of contaminated water. Generally, water from wells and water heaters should be safe to use.
Unless soils are highly permeable, contaminants deposited on the ground will normally travel very slowly into the soil. Contaminants may fall directly onto the surface of lakes and rivers where they can infiltrate ground water supplies. Streams and lake currents can transport contaminants many miles in a few hours. (back to actions)
Fish and marine life
Fish and other marine life raised in ponds, or taken from rivers, streams, or lakes may continue to be harvested unless the Michigan Department of Natural Resources, the Michigan Department of Agriculture or the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality have determined, through laboratory analysis of samples, that they are contaminated. (back to actions)
Crops in the field
Standing crops generally should be allowed to grow to maturity. The level of radiation exposure to plants that is likely to occur will not affect their growth. Most contaminants will be washed off by rain or will diminish in strength naturally to safe levels during the growing process. If special harvesting procedures are necessary, your Cooperative Extension Service agent will advise you.
Pasture and forage plants usually retain very little of the radioactive material deposited on them. The extent to which they collect and retain contaminants depends on the amount and type of contaminants involved, foliage characteristics, and the amount of rain and wind occurring after the nuclear accident. (back to actions)
Roots and tubers
Potatoes, carrots and similar plants can generally be eaten after they are thoroughly washed and peeled to remove soil particles and contaminants. (back to actions)
Fruits and vegetables in the field
Unprotected plants may have particles of contaminants on their surfaces. Leaves, pods, and fruits should be washed, brushed, scrubbed, or peeled before eating. Some leafy vegetables may be eaten after removal of the outer layers and thorough washing.
Ripe fruits and vegetables may be lost through spoilage if high levels of contamination prevent field workers from harvesting them. Those that do not need to be harvested immediately can be salvaged later when the area is safe for harvesting. (back to actions)
Honey and apiary products
Honey and bee hives should be sampled and analyzed by the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality and the Michigan Department of Agriculture if radioactive contamination is detected in the area. Contact your Cooperative Extension Service agent for guidance. (back to actions)
Contaminated farm products
If particles of radioactive material are present in large amounts, you may be advised not to use, consume, or sell garden produce or animal products until the environment and food products are sampled and assessed by the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality and the Michigan Department of Agriculture.
The presence of contamination may not mean that all of your crops will be lost. Iodine 131, an element produced in nuclear plants that could be released accidentally, loses half of its radioactivity in eight days.(back to actions)
Milk contaminated at low levels by iodine 131 may be converted to powdered milk or cheese and then stored while the iodine's radioactivity diminishes. It also may be usable as animal feed.
Do not destroy food or feed unless spoilage has made it inedible. Generally, contaminated products may be salvageable after adequate time passes and they are properly processed. Your Cooperative Extension Service agent can provide specific information.(back to actions)
Other plants or wildlife
Wild plants, such as native herbs, mushrooms, dandelion greens, spearmint, peppermint, or wintergreen may have particles of contamination on their surfaces. They should be washed, brushed, scrubbed, or peeled before eating. Wild game, such as deer, rabbit, squirrel, pheasant, or partridge may have ingested contaminants through their normal browse. You may be advised by the Michigan Department of Natural Resources, the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality or the Michigan Department of Agriculture not to consume wild game until it has been sampled and assessed as safe. (back to actions)
Weather and time play a part
All radioactive materials lose their radioactivity over time. For example, inert gases released from commercial nuclear-power plants lose their radioactivity in a matter of minutes. Wind or heavy rain tend to remove radioactive material rapidly from plant surfaces. In some cases, however, hard rain falling on contaminated soil could splash the soil onto plant surfaces, thus increasing the amount of radioactive material on low-standing plants.(back to actions)
Several steps may be taken to restore soils contaminated in a nuclear accident. Non-use for a period of time may be required. In a worst case situation, heavily contaminated soil may require removal and disposal elsewhere. Such drastic action may not be feasible for large fields, but may be appropriate for small plots or areas such as walkways near buildings where frequent human contact is likely. In less severe situations, fiber crops may be planted instead of fruits and vegetables. Deep plowing may be employed to keep radioactive contaminants below the root zone while the radioactivity decays over time. Liming may be used to limit the absorption of specific radioactive elements by crops. The Soil Conservation Service of the U.S. Department of Agriculture will provide farmers with guidance as to the best means of restoring valuable soils to productive use.(back to actions)
Food processors and distributors
Following a radiological emergency, governmental officials may restrict the movement of food products and withhold them from the marketplace if they are found to be contaminated. These products should not be released until they are considered to be safe for consumption or until a decision has been made to dispose of them. You will be instructed on how to safely handle and dispose of contaminated food products by the Michigan Department of Agriculture. (back to actions)
The public could be exposed to radioactive material in several ways following a nuclear accident. At first, particles and gases released into the air could be ingested or inhaled directly. Additional exposure could result from consumption of food or milk contaminated by traces of radioactive material. Farmers, food processors and distributors will be required to take steps to address the matter of food-supply contamination. Proper actions will ensure that contamination is minimized or avoided.
Do not destroy any animals, crops, milk or feed supplies unless directed to do so. The environmental damage caused by a nuclear accident may be short-lived. Steps can generally be taken to make a full recovery. (back to actions)
Who to contact for more information:
MSU - Berrien County Cooperative
5060 St. Joseph Avenue
Stevensville, Michigan 49127
Telephone: (269) 429-2425
If you have questions about a real or potential emergency, you also can contact the local Michigan Department of Agriculture.
Michigan Department of Agriculture
St. Joseph, Michigan 49085
Telephone: (269) 428-2546