The sky is falling

WHAT WAFTS IN ON THE BREEZE to the evening news, we are all about to die because of the radiation leaking from that Japanese nuclear power plant.
It has apparently been found in the air of several states, and it is in our milk. Any number of frightened Californians have been interviewed and terrified mothers are being quoted from across the country.
Which is embarrassing.
Because this isn’t really about a nuclear power plant, it’s about a tidal wave that probably wiped out 30,000 people. The calamity in Japan is not that it has put trace amounts of something we can’t pronounce in the air, it is that communities and families have been destroyed.
But we, being Americans, are well practiced in victimhood and outrage, with an emphasis on egocentrism, and so while the good people of Japan pick through wreckage in search of remains, we are concerned about parts per billion in our milk.
So I’d like to review some science, something most of us learned in the seventh-grade.
Ladies and gentlemen – welcome to the concept of dispersion in gas.
It is a fact that in a closed system filled with gas – like the earth’s atmosphere – material released in one portion of the system will through natural and irresistible means disperse ultimately to all portions of the system.
In the case of our atmosphere, that process is helped quit a bit by wind.
And so it is that infinitesimally small amounts of radioactive material released into the air in Japan will unavoidably turn up at some point in the air in America. This is especially true given prevailing winds.
We’ve seen that illustrated on the evening news. Wafting winds have been overlaid on the Pacific Ocean and we can see the course of air flow from Japan, across the Pacific, up toward Alaska, and down along the Canadian coast before sweeping across the American homeland.
And this, of course, has scared the living daylights out of us.
We are certain we are a goner.
And, in fact, benign amounts – the tiniest traces of traces – of Japanese radioactive materials have been detected in America.
The fact these amounts are completely safe and dramatically lower than the routine background noise of natural environmental radioactivity is of no comfort.
The sky is not only falling, it is glowing.
So, to put things in perspective, here’s something else to worry about.
That wind, the one that carries the Japanese radioactivity here, where does that come from? Before it hits Japan, where has it been?
The wind blows across China, across a little sea, across Japan, across a big ocean, and ultimately right up your nose.
So, before it got to Japan, what did this wind pick up?
To answer that, let’s look at the population of China. How many folks live over there?
Answer: 1.314 billion.
Which is a lot.
Now, other than being slaves in a Communist dictatorship that even tells them how many children to have, what do these 1.3 billion Chinese people have in common?
That’s right, they all have colons.
Large intestines, they’re called. Ascending, transverse and descending colons.
And they make gas.
It’s human nature. It even happens to your mom and the pope. It’s just part of being alive.
Thanks to federally funded studies, we actually know how much gas the average colon makes. It’s half a liter a day.
Or, if you don’t have a metric colon, about a half a quart.
The actual amount varies from individual to individual, depending on how often somebody pulls your finger.
But for the purpose of this discussion, we’ll stick with half a liter.
Now, if you take 1.314 billion and multiply it by .5, you find out that each day the people of China produce some 657 million liters of flatulence.
So, how much is that?
Well, it turns out that there are 61.0237441 cubic inches per liter, which means that each day the people of China pass about 40,092,599,873,000 cubic inches of gas.
And all of that is blowing across the Pacific, headed straight for America.
Do you see where I’m going with this?
The average person’s lungs will hold 5 liters of air. That is equal to the daily flatulence of 10 Chinese. If you take our population – 310 million – and multiply it by our average lung capacity, that gives you something in the neighborhood of 1.5 billion liters of American lung. Given the difference in our populations – they having about a billion more people than we do – it basically works out to each American filling one third of his or her lungs each day with Chinese flatulence.
Which is something you shouldn’t think too much about, especially while you’re trying to eat.
But the issue isn’t really Chinese toots and American lungs, it is Chinese toots and the Japanese power plant. After all, we’ve found traces of the power plant in our air and in our milk, so it stands to reason if one is here, so is the other.
The question is how much.
To calculate, we’d have to know how much radioactive material is coming out of the power plant each day. Unfortunately, we don’t. But it seems clear that the amount of gas venting off the power plant is far less than the amount released from an industrial smokestack.
And there is more than a thousand times more gas produced by Chinese flatulence each day than produced by the average industrial smokestack.
Which means that you are a thousand times more likely to be breathing Chinese flatulence right now than you are to be breathing material from the Japanese power plant.
Of course, if you think about it, what you breathe is apt to be even more loaded with automobile exhaust from China and Japan, and everywhere between you and California.
There is a lot of filth in the air you breathe.
And yet you survive.
Because of the principle of dispersion in a gas. And because toxicity is in the dose. It is not the presence of something that causes a problem, it is the concentration of something that causes a problem.
We should not be surprised that some traces of the Japanese mishap are detectable in our air. If we looked, we would find traces of almost everything in our air – often at dramatically higher levels than the Japanese radioactivity.
And yet you survive.
Because the air is fine and your body is strong. And any number of materials circulate through the air we breathe and the water we drink and the food we eat.
All with no harm to us.
Except for the occasional panic driven by ignorance.
Our milk and our air are fine, and we are embarrassing ourselves by freaking out over the radioactivity.
This is not about American pansies, this is about Japanese victims.
We should be more concerned about them, and less concerned about us.

  • by Bob Lonsberry © 2011

Cute thanks George …Roy

Kind of reminds one of the “mold” panic a few years ago, or the Chinese drywall scandal. Like a nervous herd of Texas Longhorns, if a leaf blows by in the middle of the night there is a stampede, in this case to be a victim. You probably get more radiation from your annual visit to the dentist. Should we be aware, absolutely. Do we need to piss ourselves every time someone prints a report about radiation being found in a blade of grass in Roosterfart, Arkansas, hardly. (Anyone remember the Y2K panic. The world was going to come to a grinding, screeching halt at midnight Jan 1, 2000). Then nothing happened and everyone went back to partying.