Humanitarian Health Action

Update 5: Information on drinking water safety released

25 March 2011 | GENEVA -- Media reports about a cloud of radioactive particles originating from the damaged nuclear power plant in Fukushima and now moving around the globe have increased public apprehension about the unfolding event and its potential health effects worldwide. WHO understands this concern, but dispersal of radiation was expected over time and there is no risk to human health outside the affected area at this time, based on scientific information now available.

In other news, residents living 20 to 30 kilometres from the power facility who had earlier been asked to shelter indoors to avoid radiation exposure as a precautionary measure, are now being advised to voluntarily evacuate the area. The Japanese government cited the difficult living conditions in the zone and adverse weather forecasts for the area as the reasons for their guidance.

In response to concerns about the safety of drinking water in Japan, WHO says that drinking tap water poses no immediate health risk, but local conditions will differ and may fluctuate. Essential hydration of infants should not be compromised in an attempt to reduce radiation exposure.

WHO urges people in the area to heed the advice of local authorities, as they will have access to the latest measurements of radiation levels in water to compare against the standards for adults and children. These standards are precautionary and the presence of some degree of radioactivity in tap water does not mean that it is unfit for human intake. Short term consumption does not pose a significant threat to health because it would take long-term exposure to these levels of radiation to generate adverse health effects.

WHO has prepared general advice about drinking water quality and comparative public health risks associated with a nuclear emergency. The event is continuing to evolve and WHO will continue to assess its advice based on the changing situation.

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