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Managing Radioactivity in Food, Drinking Water and Commodities


Organizers of the Regional Workshop on Radioactivity in Food, Drinking Water and Commodities in Buenos Aires, Argentina. (Photo: Nuclear Regulatory Authority of Argentina, Communication Division)

The IAEA and the Nuclear Regulatory Authority of Argentina have held a regional workshop in Buenos Aires from 21 to 23 March 2017, to discuss the application of current international standards for managing radioactivity in food, drinking water and commodities in non-emergency situations.

The workshop, jointly organized by the IAEA, the Joint FAO/IAEA Division of Nuclear Techniques in Food and Agriculture, the Pan American Health Organization and the World Health Organization, was attended by 46 participants from 16 Member States and two non-Member States, Aruba and St. Lucia. The participants included high level experts and senior staff from regulatory bodies, industry, research organizations and government ministries charged with the responsibility for establishing national standards for radioactivity in food, drinking water and commodities that are traded, and for assessing compliance with such standards.

Food, drinking water and commodities may contain both naturally occurring and man-made radionuclides. When consumed or used, these products may expose people to radiation. For this reason, it is important to know the amounts of radionuclides in food and drinking water and, if necessary, control their distribution and harmonize national approaches in order to facilitate international trade.

The main purpose of the workshop was to seek feedback from countries in the Latin America and the Caribbean region on their experience in using the international standards, including the identification of any aspects requiring further clarification or development.

A number of countries in the region currently do not have programmes for monitoring radioactivity in food and drinking water. The workshop offered these countries an opportunity to learn from the experiences of others on how to design and implement an appropriate and cost-effective monitoring programme, including the management of situations where activity concentrations in the standards are exceeded. The first step in designing such a monitoring programme is to undertake baseline studies describing the situation nationally.

Participants at the Regional Workshop on Radioactivity in Food, Drinking Water and Commodities. (Photo: Nuclear Regulatory Authority of Argentina, Communication Division)

Participants at the workshop recognized the need to further harmonize the international standards in terms of scope, radiation protection criteria and terminology. They considered that the current system was unnecessarily complex, but that at the same time it did not adequately address all the situations that exist in the region.

Participants recommended that the same criteria for radioactivity content should apply to tap water, bottled water and mineral water. While it was recognized that mineral water often has a special status under national legislation, it was considered that the consumer has the right to expect the same criteria for all water, regardless of source. The participants also discussed the need to collect data on the natural radionuclide content of food produced in the region, both for comparison with radionuclides of artificial origin, and as a first step in considering the inclusion of natural radionuclides in international standards for food.

The workshop participants supported improved harmonization of the standards for radioactivity in food, drinking water and non-food commodities and requested the responsible international organizations to work together to this end.

This event was implemented within the framework of the IAEA technical cooperation project RLA9078, which aims at enhancing effective regional capabilities for protecting the public and the environment in Latin American and Caribbean countries.

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