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32 years after Chernobyl: Some wild mushrooms are still contaminated with radiation

Year of issue 2018
Date 2018.10.17

Even 32 years after the reactor disaster of Chernobyl, its consequences can still be observed in Germany. This is proven by measurement results published in two current reports by the Federal Office for Radiation Protection (BfS). Accordingly, certain species of mushrooms in certain regions of Bavaria are still strongly contaminated with radiation. The radioactive contamination in all agricultural products resulting from the Chernobyl reactor accident, however, has clearly reduced and the current levels measured are low.

In a number of wild growing mushrooms, clearly enhanced levels of the radioactive caesium (caesium-137) are still measured, which escaped after the accident in Chernobyl. This has been revealed by the current BfS report Radioactive contamination of mushrooms (as in 2017). For example, "Braunscheibige Schnecklinge" and "Orangefalbe Schnecklinge" or "Redbrown Semmelstoppelpilze" (hedgehogs) may contain up to some 1,000 becquerel (Bq) of caesium-137 per kilogram fresh mass.

"Even more than three decades after the Chernobyl accident, some species of wild mushrooms cannot be given the 'all-clear'. Our measurement results show that the radioactive contamination of these species of mushrooms is still very high, contrary to other foods," BfS president Inge Paulini says. Due to its half-life of approximately 30 years, only about half of the caesium-137 stemming from the Chernobyl accident has decayed so far.

With one meal of higher-contaminated mushrooms, more caesium-137 can be taken in than with foods from agricultural production within a whole year. However, health effects need not be feared when consuming picked mushrooms in usual amounts. For mushrooms being put on the market, it applies that a limit of 600 becquerel per kilogram must not be exceeded.

The highest content of caesium-137 in mushrooms is found in higher-contaminated smaller areas in the Bavarian Forest, in the Donaumoos south of Ingolstadt, and in the Mittenwald region. The level of contamination in these areas due to the reactor accident in 1986 was ten times higher than e.g. in North Germany. On account of the low deposition of caesium-137, the levels are correspondingly lower in mushrooms from other regions.

The reason why mushrooms in the regions concerned may be clearly stronger contaminated than agricultural products is the different characteristic of forest grounds and agricultural soils. The caesium-137 levels in agricultural products in Germany are currently only some becquerel per kilogram and below. In Germany, less than 100 becquerel of caesium-137 on average per person and year is taken up with agri-food.

Altogether, the radioactive exposure of foods as a result of the Chernobyl accident has clearly reduced. This is revealed in a recent report on environmental radioactivity in Germany, in which the BfS and other co-ordinating offices of the federal government have published measurement results from the years 2014 to 2016. For example, the caesium-137 levels in fish from inland waters in Southern Germany have dropped by factor 200 since 1986. In the case of milk, the contamination has been reducing permanently and is on a low level. In drinking water and groundwater, nearly all measured values for caesium-137 are very low and far below the required detection limits.

State of 2018.10.17

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