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King County News

An update on what's happening in King County government

Response to the crisis in Japan

Tragedy in Japan

The earthquake and tsunami have caused unprecedented devastation to our neighbors across the pacific. Our thoughts remain with the Japanese people, and we have also been monitoring the unfolding events at the Japanese nuclear reactors.

Experts at the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and the Washington Department of Health do not expect significant levels of radioactivity in our state or any health risk from the situation in Japan. Even in the event of a significant release from the reactor, radiation should be diluted by winds and distance before reaching our state. As a precaution, federal and state agencies will continue to monitor radiation levels in the air and rain water.

Learn more in our FAQs, updates here and on Twitter.

Update: 10 a.m., March 28

Your first move when the earth shakes: Drop, Cover, and Hold

With images of Japan’s devastating earthquake fresh on our minds, so is another round of Internet misinformation about what should be your first move during an earthquake. The King County Office of Emergency Management wants you to know that "Drop, Cover, and Hold" is the best method to protect yourself during an earthquake in the United States, especially in our own quake-prone region.

  • DROP to the floor
  • Take COVER under a sturdy table, desk, or chair
  • HOLD in place until the shaking stops

Experts, from medical doctors to international search and rescue teams, agree: Drop, Cover, and Hold is your best move to reduce injury and death during an earthquake. Methods like standing in a doorway, running outside, and searching for a potential "triangle of life" are considered dangerous and are not recommended. Here’s why:

  • Many injuries from earthquakes are caused from people running around while the ground is shaking. They fall down, run into furniture, step on broken glass, or are hit by falling objects.
  • In and around older buildings especially, there is a much higher likelihood of broken windows, falling bricks, and other dangerous debris.
  • Despite the urge to flee, experts advise people to stay put – you are more protected indoors under a sturdy desk or table.
  • Earthquakes in the U.S. do not typically result in total building collapse (“pancaking”) due to high building construction standards.

To learn more about earthquake safety and mitigation, please visit the King County Office of Emergency Management. Help your family, workplace, and community prepare for earthquakes and other disasters: visit

Update: March 23

Questions and answers about radiation in Japan and food safety

Does the situation with the nuclear reactors in Japan pose a risk to food in the United States?

No. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) states that there is no risk to the food supply in the U.S., based on current information. FDA is closely monitoring the situation in Japan and is working with the Japanese government and other U.S. agencies to continue to ensure that imported food remains safe.

Are foods from Japan safe to eat?

Yes. Food stores in the United States do not have any food exposed to the radiation in Japan. Since the earthquake on 3/11/11, no food products have been exported from the region of Japan affected by the nuclear reactors. The Japanese government has also stopped the sale of foods from that area that have tested high for radiation levels (raw milk, spinach, kakina). In addition, the FDA is vigilantly screening 100 percent of food shipments from Japan before they enter the United States.

How is food screened?

Before food shipments cross the border, the FDA’s import tracking system automatically flags those coming from Japan. Their staff reviews each shipment to determine if it poses a potential health risk. U.S. Customs and Border Protection also screens food imports using equipment that can specifically measure radiation.

Are fish and seafood safe from radiation?

The great quantity of water in the Pacific Ocean rapidly and effectively dilutes radioactive material, so the Washington State Department of Health has determined that local fish and shellfish are safe from radiation. The FDA also advises that all Pacific seafood is unlikely to be affected by radiation. As a precaution, the FDA is taking all steps to evaluate and measure any contamination in fish imported into the United States.

For more information:

Update: 10 a.m., March 22 

Japanese foods are safe

The FDA reports that there is no risk to the U.S. food supply as a result of the situation with the nuclear reactors. No food products from the affected areas in Japan are being exported, and more importantly, they do not expect any Japanese food exports to pose a health hazard. As a precaution, the FDA and U.S. Customs and Border Patrol are screening 100 percent of food shipments from Japan for radiation

NPR’s health blog provided some additional perspective on the effects of radiation on the milk from the area near the reactors. Their interview with a health physicist described the actual risk from milk that recently tested high for radiation (note: dairy from the affected region is not exported and has been banned for consumption by the Japanese government):

“To reach the radiation dose limit for a power plant worker, you'd need to drink 2,922 eight-ounce glasses of milk. To raise your lifetime cancer risk by 4 percent, you'd have to drain more than 58,000 glasses of milk. That would take you 160 years, if you drank one 8-ounce glass a day.”

Phone hotline

The American Association of Poison Control Centers has volunteered to take calls from the public regarding potential exposures related to the events in Japan. If you have questions about radiation, you can call their toll free number: 1-800-222-1222.

Radiation monitoring

Are you intrigued by data? The EPA has launched a new web site that shows the data readings from radiation monitoring stations along the West Coast. As expected, the levels of radiation are thousands of times below any level of concern.

Update: 10 a.m. March 21

Translated information

The state Department of Health has translated information about the nuclear reactor situation in Japan into Spanish, Russian, Ukrainian, Chinese, Korean, and Vietnamese. A Japanese language version is expected to be posted later today.

New information links

Read additional archived updates.

Send email to with questions or concerns about radiation levels in Washington State.