Drs. Thomas Johnson and Alexander Brandl, both with the Department of Environmental and Radiological Health Sciences, recently were awarded a research grant to investigate response and recovery from the catastrophic exposure of agricultural animals to radioactive contamination.
The approximately $200,000 grant is from the United States Department of Agriculture’s National Institute for Food and Agriculture. The grant was awarded last fall, and Dr. Johnson noted the timeliness of the research given the sequence of events in Japan this March (earthquake and tsunami) that led to radioactive releases from the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant.
“There are simply a lot of gaps in our knowledge about how best to handle the exposure of livestock to radioactive contamination,” said Dr. Johnson, an Assistant Professor in ERHS. “This grant will help us identify those critical research and extension service gaps and begin to develop a program proactively. The current situation in Japan reinforces the importance of this research.”
The program’s objective is to identify and address the most critical research and extension gaps relating to the response to and recovery from the catastrophic exposure of agricultural animals to radioactive contamination including those from a nuclear power plant accident; a “dirty” bomb (a radiological weapon that combines radioactive material with conventional explosives to spread radioactive dust, smoke, or other material); or the detonation of a nuclear bomb.
The investigations should yield best practices to minimize potentially catastrophic damage to agriculture and the environment; ensure safety and security of the food supply; and better protect animal and public health in the event of an accidental or intentional radiological release. The grant also will help to establish a collaborative effort that will assemble existing information for dissemination using existing local, regional, national, and international capabilities and capacities.
To date, Drs. Johnson and Brandl have collected information on the handling of radioactively contaminated livestock after a radiological or nuclear emergency. The difficult process of determining the livestock that would be suitable for decontamination has been completed, and decision nodes identified that can be used in the aftermath of a radiological or nuclear event. Additionally, they have produced a guideline for handling and processing options of salvageable livestock. They also have written a paper for publication that will assist in future emergency handling, including data gathering in the aftermath of a radiological or nuclear event.
“Our current focus is on methodologies to assess dose in affected livestock,” said Dr. Brandl, an Assistant Professor in ERHS. “Our follow-up work will concentrate on calculating external contamination doses to animals, and then addressing livestock internal dosimetry questions. From there, we’ll investigate the internal contamination of livestock grazing on contaminated land.”