Radioactive strontium-90 found in fish in Vermont, USA

Vermont health officials have found radioactive strontium-90 in a smallmouth bass taken from the Connecticut River.

The fish was collected 9 miles upstream from the Vermont Yankee Nuclear Power Plant, but William Irwin, the state’s chief radiological health officer, says it’s not certain where the strontium-90 comes from. It might come from the power plant, it might come from the Chernobyl disaster and it might come from deposits left over from atomic bomb testing carried out in the 1950s and 1960s.

According to Irwin, the strontium-90 is most likely not from the Fukushima disaster since that release of radioactive material took place so recently.

What makes the finding even more intriguing is that the strontium-90 was found in the fleshy, edible part of the fish instead of in the bones.


Strontium is an alkaline earth metal chemical element that is highly reactive chemically. Its symbol is Sr and its atomic number is 38. Strontium is. Strontium is soft and looks silvery-white or yellowish until it is exposed to air which makes it yellow. The 90Sr isotope is present in radioactive fallout and has a half-life of 28.90 years. Natural strontium is nonradioactive and nontoxic, but 90Sr is a radioactivity hazard.

Because strontium is so similar to calcium, it is incorporated in the bone of humans and other animals, including fish. This is true for all four stable isotopes, and analyzing which isotope that has been incorporated into a bone can help us determine the region from which the bone hails. It is an important investigative tool for forensic scientists.

Stable forms of strontium are believed to be safe for humans, and the levels found naturally might actually be beneficial since they strengthen our bones. The 90Sr isotope can on the other hand cause various disorders and disease, including bone cancer and leukemia.

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