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Tuesday, 25 November 1986
Page: 2729

(Question No. 1363)

Senator Macklin asked the Minister representing the Minister for Health, upon notice, on 16 September 1986:

(1) Do any Derived Emergency Reference Levels (DERLS) exist in Australia to ban various types of food produce following radioactive contamination.

(2) Will the Minister for Health establish and make public the DERLS Becquerel units for the following range of radionuclides in view of the Government's commitment to the nuclear industry: Strontium-89; Strontium-90; Cesium-134, Cesium-137; Americum-241; Iodine-125; Iodine-131; Iodine-133; Ruthenium-103; Ruthenium-106 and Plutonium-239 in milk, green vegetables, fruit, meat and water.

Senator Grimes —The Minister for Health has provided the following answer to the honourable senator's question:

(1) At its 76th Session, in May 1973, the National Health and Medical Research Council adopted a statement on Emergency Reference Levels for Major Radiation Accidents, which was prepared by its Radiation Health Committee. These levels divide situations in which countermeasures are unlikely to be justified from those in which countermeasures are desirable if they can be carried out safely and effectively. The statement was published in its Session Report.

The statement indicates that control of the use of contaminated foodstuffs should be considered when risks to the public from their consumption exceed 3 x 10-4. Assuming a linear dose-effect relationship, this corresponds to an effective dose equivalent of 20 millisievert (mSv). In 1984, the International Commission on Radiological Protection indicated that, in the intermediate phase of an emergency situation where members of the public might be exposed to radiation, additional countermeasures that are applicable include restricting the distribution and consumption of locally produced water and foodstuffs. Although, in general, there should be little penalty in not distributing fresh foods, including milk, it may be appropriate to control distribution of fresh foods if the projected dose within the first year would otherwise exceed the annual dose limit for members of the public. If alternative supplies are not available, it may be appropriate to allow a higher level of dose. The Commission suggests that a dose of 5 mSv is a value below which countermeasures are not warranted and a dose of 50 mSv is a value above which countermeasures are almost certain, as far as the consumption of foodstuffs is concerned. The NHMRC value falls between these two levels.

Any countermeasures taken will depend on the concentration of radionuclides in the foodstuffs, their rates of consumption and the consumption rates of similar and other foodstuffs which are not contaminated. These factors need to be taken into account in determining concentrations at which foodstuffs should be banned from consumption.

(2) The DERLS Becquerel units for the requested range of radionuclides have not been identified except for the following for water:


i Specified radionuclides

Strontium-90 ...


Radium-226 ...


Gross Beta (in absence of Sr90 and Alpha emitters) ...


ii Unspecified radionuclides

Gross Alpha activity ...


Gross Beta activity (including Sr90) ...


Other units would be identified when required taking into account the relevant circumstances. The Radiation Health Committee is reviewing the 1973 statement at the present time, and will revise it if considered necessary. In any revision, it will take into account any action taken and advice made available on contaminated foodstuffs in other countries. Acceptable maximum concentrations of the different radionuclides in foodstuffs can be derived on the basis of the doses likely to be received as a consequence of their consumption.