Coping With Radioactive Contamination; How To Protect Yourself


Hygiene: Hygiene is important, keep food in sealed containers, indoors. Keep food preparation surfaces clean and free of dust or dirt. Clean produce well and peel any root vegetables. Do not keep or consume food in places where dirt and contamination could be blown onto the food. Avoid hand to mouth gestures when hands may be dirty or in an area more prone to contamination like outdoors. Washing hands before food preparation, eating or smoking can help.

Water: Only use water known to be safe or decontaminated, including for cooking water. See home section for details on making water safer.  Do not use collected rainwater for anything related to food unless it is decontaminated first.

Food: Know your food source as much as possible. Try to buy products where you know the original source and that they have not been heavily co-mingled with products from other areas. Check for product testing by the manufacturer or the area it came from. This web site provides some food testing results sorted by food type and location.

Food harvested before March 2011 should be safer as long as it has been properly sealed and stored to prevent contamination. Previous seasons of foods like rice or wheat, as long as they have been stored properly would be safer and could be stockpiled.

Eating foods known to be uncontaminated and lower on the food chain is a good general rule of thumb. Since there was considerable contamination dumped into the Pacific ocean look for seafood from further regions or that has been fully tested. Contamination can “bioaccumulate” as animals consume large amounts of contaminated plants or other animals that are contaminated.

Foods high in potassium, anti-oxidants and boron can be protective, but radioactive cesium reacts much like potassium, so many high potassium foods also tend to uptake too much Cs-137.  More research is needed, but it looks like legumes and field grains (millet, barley, wheat etc.) are high in potassium but less-inclined to absorb cesium. A good rule would be to try to find high potassium foods more likely to be not contaminated. See our list of beneficial  foods for more information.

Certain clays that are known to be edible as supplements are thought to absorb certain types of radiation and pull them out of the body. Baking soda (sodium bicarbonate) has also been used to protect kidneys from uranium damage. 1 teaspoon of baking soda powder every 4 hours for adults, up to 4 teaspoons per day. For children consult your doctor for safe amount based on age. Sodium bicarbonate changes the urine ph and protects the kidneys from uranium.


Water: Reverse osmosis water systems will remove contamination from water. Whole house units and under sink models are available. Water distillers will remove contamination. Distillers come in small countertop models or larger models that do many gallons at a time.  The tank residue should be treated as contaminated when cleaning a distiller. Zeolite shower and water filters can be found online. Zeolite is known to remove cesium. Water filters should be changed frequently. Filters are available as whole house, under counter and models that attach to a faucet or shower head.

Interior environment: Again, hygiene is key.  Minimize dirt into the home or office.  Take shoes off outside or in an isolated entryway. Coats and umbrellas should be similarly handled. Try to keep dust down, scuffing your feet or cleaning techniques that disturb dust should be avoided. Sweeping, brushing, compressed air or vacuum cleaners can throw dust into the air. Use wet mopping, wet rags or paper towels when cleaning.  Areas where dust and contamination can collect are door handles, sinks, phones, computer keyboards and fans.

If high levels of contamination are in the air close windows and doors and if necessary seal them off if high winds are predicted.  Many “Mitsubishi” style wall air conditioner units can be fitted with a HEPA filter as can most central forced air heating or cooling systems. Some window air conditioners can be fitted with a HEPA filter, check with the manufacturer.  Pollen and dust filters will not filter out radioactive contamination. Please treat items such as used HEPA filters, vacuum filters and dust or other filters as potentially radioactive waste. Wrap in a plastic bag or close able plastic bag and dispose of properly.

Low level decontamination can be done by simple measures. Clothing can be washed, assure the clothing gets clean in the wash cycle. Showering with soap and shampooing hair are usually sufficient to remove low levels of contaminated dust people may encounter.


Stay out of the dirt and avoid places where rain and runoff accumulate.  Don’t go into street gutters or ditches and avoid areas of dense shrubs etc.. where fallout could be transferred. Avoid being in the rain or use an umbrella: rain will collect contamination out of thousands of feet of air as it falls to the ground.

Do not touch any exposed skin, such as your face. open cuts or abrasions.  Do not smoke, eat, drink, or chew while within areas of high contamination. Wash your hands after handling things outside.

If you must handle objects outside that accumulate dirt, disposable gloves, safety glasses, coveralls and respirator masks can reduce the possibility of ingestion or absorption of radioactive materials. The surgical masks used to avoid pollen do not filter out radioactive contamination.  If wet, they do remove a high percentage of the Cs-137, which is the most prevalent contaminant outside of Japan at the moment, so this might be an option for short stretches outdoors.

Do not allow children to play in the dirt, ask if your playground has been tested and what the level was. Local governments have been setting maximum levels for local playgrounds and schools. There are a number of parents groups working to protect children from radiation exposure. We have listed all we currently know of in our Japan Aid Resources list of link on our website. at

Additional resources:

Brookhaven National Lab Safety Manual

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Download a PDF of the foods list here
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