Caesium 137 – Contamination of Game in Austria

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Changed on: 07.06.2017
Wildschwein

The nuclear catastrophe in Chernobyl on 26th April, 1986 resulted in the release of large quantities of radionucleids (= radioactive substances) into the environment. The repercussions of this incident can still be measured in Europe. However, only the long-lifetime isotope Caesium(Cs) 137 (half-life about 30 years) is still of importance in terms of radiation exposure in Central Europe. The EU maximum limit for radioactive Caesium in food products is 600 Becquerel per Kg.
Natural forest soil retains Caesium 137 longer than agricultural land. The substance is washed deeper into the ground on agricultural land and meadows by rain and work on the fields, respectively. It remains in the most upper layers in forest soil and can be ingested by the plants present via their roots. As a result, wild animals also ingest Caesium 137, in particular wild boars, as they burrow through the top soil layer looking for food.

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Wildschwein

The nuclear catastrophe in Chernobyl on 26th April, 1986 resulted in the release of large quantities of radionucleids (= radioactive substances) into the environment. The repercussions of this incident can still be measured in Europe. However, only the long-lifetime isotope Caesium(Cs) 137 (half-life about 30 years) is still of importance in terms of radiation exposure in Central Europe. The EU maximum limit for radioactive Caesium in food products is 600 Becquerel per Kg.
Natural forest soil retains Caesium 137 longer than agricultural land. The substance is washed deeper into the ground on agricultural land and meadows by rain and work on the fields, respectively. It remains in the most upper layers in forest soil and can be ingested by the plants present via their roots. As a result, wild animals also ingest Caesium 137, in particular wild boars, as they burrow through the top soil layer looking for food.

More information

Environment

[Translate to English:] Auch 30 Jahre nach Tschernobyl erhebliche Cäsium-137-Aktivitätskonzentrationen im Waldökosystem

The most recent project “Radioökologische Evaluierung der Radionuklidkontamination in Waldökosystemen 30 Jahre nach Tschernobyl” (Radioecological Evaluation of the Radionucleid Exposure of Woodland Ecosystems 30 Years After the Chernobyl Disaster) commissioned by the Federal Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry, Environment and Water Management (BMLFUW) and carried out by AGES and the University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences Vienna (BOKU) examined the long-term effects of the Chernobyl disaster on large forests in Austria (Kobernausser Forest, Dunkelsteiner Forest, Weinsberger Forest) and Bavaria. These woodlands were chosen because their soil is largely untouched and the animals feed naturally and receive no significant amounts of additional food.  About 40 wild boar, 15 berry, 11 mushroom and 104 soil samples, as well as 104 vegetation samples (e.g. moss, ferns) were tested for Caesium 137.

The results show that considerable Caesium 137 concentrations can still be found in woodland ecosystems even 30 years after Chernobyl. The isotope is still concentrated in the top soil layers. While only one sample of each berry and mushroom specimen examined exceeded the maximum limit of 600 Bq/Kg slightly, wild boar meat can still exceed the limit sevenfold (maximum value measured was 4710 Bq/Kg). Additionally, almost all of the wild boar samples (15 out of 16) exceeded the limit due to the high concentration levels in the soil of the Austrian woodlands selected. Both the highest and the lowest Caesium 137 values found in wild boar in Austria during this project came from the same forest (Dunkelsteiner Forest). This clearly shows that the animals’ feeding behaviour also plays an important role, in addition to the Caesium 137 levels in forest soil itself. Only one sample taken from berries and mushrooms exceeded the limit of 600 Bq/Kg.

Special Focus Examinations 2008

The project “A Survey of the Radioactive Exposure in Game” was carried out in 2007 and 2008, commissioned by the Austrian Federal Ministry for Health. The project examined samples of game from its natural habitat. Unlike the animals in game holdings, these were not fed by humans. The project has already yielded valuable data on increased Cs-137 concentration levels in game from specific regions.

A total of 490 specimens (43 chamois, 14 mouflon, 217 roe deer, 107 red deer, 7 sika deer, 79 wild boars, 1 pheasant, 16 wild hares, 1 ibex and 5 wild rabbits) were examined and the maximum level of 5,800 Bq/Kg was found in a wild boar. The caesium levels of 8 wild boar and 11 roe deer samples exceeded the limit out of the 490 specimens, while 96 % of the samples were below the maximum level -- the majority of which were significantly below the limit.

Food

Wildfleisch im Handel kaum belastet

AGES gauges the radiation contamination of a variety of game meats (including wild boar) on a routine basis. The samples are taken from abattoirs all over Austria. Approximately 1,000 game meat specimens have been tested for Caesium 137 since 2004, including 134 samples from wild boars, as part of this residue control system. Six out of these 1,000 samples taken from a variety of different game species showed levels that were higher than the maximum level, with the highest value at 1,975 Bq/Kg. The values measured in 90 % of the samples were below 100 Bq/Kg.

Examination of game meats for Caesium 137
Number of SamplesMinimumMaximumMedian
Austria97201.9743,74
Vienna270,6640,451,01
Lower Austria264<0,54356,71,54
Upper Austria219<0,651.9744,66
Burgenland58<0,84921,31,98
Styria189<0,75531,68,68
Carinthia770,49364,412,11
Tyrol610,83201,123,18
Vorarlberg161,6591,283,19
Salzburg60<1,31.11742,67


Focus projects on radioactivity in wild berries and mushrooms were carried out in addition to this routine monitoring of game meat.

Radioactivity in Austrian wild mushrooms (in German):

Focus Wild Boar Meat in Stores 

The Austrian Federal Ministry for Health (BMG) commissioned a project in 2012 that focused on recording the ingestion dose (dose of radioactivity ingested with food) of the Austrian population. The samples used were taken from an Austrian company that supplies the country’s major retail chains. This company is one of Austria’s major suppliers and obtains its game mainly from Lower Austria and Burgenland, but also partly from Styria and Upper Austria.

A total of 227 samples were analysed. There were 156 samples from Lower Austria, 61 from Burgenland, 9 from Styria and 2 samples from Upper Austria. Eighty samples came from female boars and 147 from males. There were 170 samples from adult (older than 2 years) animals and 57 from young boars (1 - 2 years). No samples were taken from shoats.

The highest value of 408 ± 27 Bq/Kg came from an adult female boar from the Gmünd District. All values were below the limit of 600 Bq/Kg, as defined in Council Regulation (EC) No. 733/2008 of 15th July, 2008 on the on the conditions governing imports of agricultural products originating in third countries following the accident at the Chernobyl nuclear power station. Thus, the ingestion of normal amounts of this kind of meat is not expected to lead to a significant increase in the ingestion dose.

Low Risk

[Translate to English:] Geringes Risiko durch Radioaktivität in Wildfleisch

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Durchschnittliche Strahlenbelastung der Bevölkerung pro Jahr


The measurement used to measure the risk deriving from radioactive contamination is the dose, given in milli-Sievert (mSv). The consumption of 10 servings of wild boar meat (1 serving = 250 g) per year from the boar with the highest levels found (4,710 Bq/kg) during the latest project “Radioecological Evaluation of the Radionucleid Contamination in Woodland Ecosystems 30 Years After the Chernobyl Disaster” would result in an ingested dose of 0.15 mSv per year. This corresponds to about half the annual dose ingested through the consumption of natural radionucleids that are present in food (0.3 to 0.4 mSv per annum).

In comparison: natural radiation exposure in Austria is about 2 to 3 mSv per year; a transatlantic flight or a lung X-ray corresponds to approx. 0.005 – 0.009 mSv, a mammography examination about 0.2 to 0.3 mSv. The total annual radiation dose of the average Austrian is about 4.2 mSv.

In principle, any exposure to radiation should be kept to a minimum. Exposure to radiation through the consumption of food can be reduced via individual food habits. Thus, individuals who want to keep their personal exposure to the absolute minimum could forgo the consumption of comparably highly contaminated game meat.


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