Expert panel to address radiologic impact on animals near Japan nuclear plant

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The International Fund for Animal Welfare in April announced a team of radiation and animal rescue experts had been assembled to develop a plan for aiding animals inside the evacuation zone around the damaged Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant in Japan.

Limited data are available about decontaminating and treating animals affected by radiation, and standards don’t exist for determining whether an animal has been exposed to an unsafe level of radiation. Moreover, little is known about the survivability of wildlife and pets, or the viability of farm animals, exposed to radiation.

The goal of the IFAW-led summit is to develop response procedures and protocols to monitor, evacuate, and treat animals contaminated by radiation. Topics that will be addressed include radiation exposure, animal behavior, animal decontamination, animal sheltering and husbandry, wildlife habitat and rehabilitation, and human responder safety.

"We have been interviewing people from the evacuated towns, and we've seen video evidence of a large number of animals, including livestock, horses, and companion animals, that have been left behind," said Dick Green, IFAW disaster manager.

"We can't turn a blind eye to Japan's abandoned animals that have not received adequate food or water for more than a month and continue to receive dangerous levels of radiation," he said.

The team of experts was expected to meet in early May in Tokyo and included representatives of the Japanese and U.S. governments, veterinary and toxicology experts, academicians, and IFAW.

Japan nuclear disaster animal relief planning
Drs. Kelly Preston and Gordon Cleveland, both with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, confer with two Japanese professors with the help of a translator.

Dr. Lisa A. Murphy, a leading authority in radiologic toxicology in animals, is a team member. In addition to being part of AVMA Veterinary Medical Assistance Team 2, Dr. Murphy is an assistant professor of toxicology at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine and co-chair of the National Alliance of State Animal and Agricultural Emergency Programs' Best Practice Working Group on Animal Decontamination. Also on the team of experts meeting in Japan is Maj. Kelley L. Evans, a staff officer with the U.S. Army Veterinary Command.

The earthquake and subsequent tsunami that struck Japan on March 11 caused serious damage to the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant. When radiation was detected outside the facility, Japan's government declared a mandatory evacuation of residents within a 12-mile radius of the plant and a voluntary evacuation for residents living within a 12- to 18-mile radius. Research shows that as many as 30 percent of evacuees will attempt to re-enter a disaster zone to rescue pets left behind.

"By removing those animals that can be safely decontaminated from the evacuation zone and reuniting them with their families, there will be a significant reduction in the number of people attempting to re-enter the danger zone—putting their own lives at risk," Green added.

As the recommendations were being developed, an immediate animal relief plan had been recommended to Japanese authorities. The strategy includes setting up feeding stations in the evacuation zones, providing decontamination training to veterinary teams, positioning transport equipment in strategic staging areas, and readying animal shelters for the influx of evacuated animals.