JAPANESE PROJECT IN UKRAINE
Safe products - the key to the health of future generations
As the example of Ukrainian villages showed, simple measures can reduce the internal radiation of people.
The dream of 16-year-old Vadim Timoshenko from the Peschanitsy village (Zhytomyr region) is to become a programmer to help his parents. He was born with a disappointing diagnosis of cerebral palsy. At the age of 7, he could not even walk yet. Now he attends school, moves with the help of special walkers. He says that most of all he likes the lessons of informatics and the Ukrainian language. And now he is also studying at an online computer school.
Who knows what the fate of this family would have been if not for a chance meeting. The boy began to walk thanks to the massages that Japanese specialists did to him. They came to Ukraine as part of the delegations of the Japan Offspring Fund. Japan Offspring Fund was established in 1984 by Junichi Kowaka and is registered as a Nonprofit Organization (NPO). JOF activities include the study of the effect on human health of products containing preservatives, carcinogens, and other harmful substances. After the nuclear accident at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant in 2011, the organization began to research even more actively the issues of radiation contamination of products.
"Do you have healthy children?"
We meet Vadim and his mother Natalya at the Peschanitskaya general education school. The boy began to go here thanks to the fact that his health improved, and thanks to the fact that, with the assistance of Junichi Kowaka, the Tymoshenko family bought a house near the school and made repairs in it.
“The masseurs came and did acupressure. We have already seen the changes after the third session. They helped us with pure products, gave recommendations on what to eat and what to avoid. We adhere to the recommendations and do therapy exercises. Of course, we go to rehabilitation - about three times a year”, - said Natalia Tymoshenko.
This family is not the only one who has received help from Japanese specialists. There are several of these not only in the Zhytomyr region but also in the Poltava region and the Kyiv region, where there are many resettlements from the Chernobyl zone.
Children's health is a priority for Mr. Kowaka. For this, the Foundation financed a number of programs aimed at reducing the negative impact of radionuclides on human health.
It all started with a chance meeting in 2012. The Japanese delegation was on its way to the Begun village (Zhytomyr region). They stopped to admire the church in the neighboring Mozhary. In Ukraine, Children's Day was just celebrated, so there were many pupils and teachers in the schoolyard.
“They stopped, came to meet. They asked about the children's health and drove on. Later the project coordinator Tatiana Androsenko came to us and cooperation began”, - recalls the director of the Mozhary school Tatyana Mazur.
The Japanese asked if there were healthy children among schoolchildren, and they were very surprised that almost every child was worried about something: someone - headaches, someone - joint pains.
In the Begun village the delegation also met the families.
“Firstly, they wanted to know about the health of children who were born in 1986. Two families were selected and included in the project to research how clean food affects health. A sick girl from our village was sent to rehabilitation in Crimea for more than 2 months. Upon arrival, she said that her health improved significantly, she even stopped taking medicine’, - told the director of the Begun school Yuri Fedorchuk.
At that time, Tatiana Androsenko, who is herself a displaced person from the exclusion zone, communicated between the Japanese foundation of Mr. Kowaka and Ukrainian schools.
“Mr. Kowaka became interested in the displaced families, as well as those families in which children were born in 1986. He was in Ukraine with an official purpose - investigating the impact of the Chernobyl accident, because it was just a year after the tragedy in Fukushima. Then he returned to implement a project that will help reduce the health effects of radiation by eating clean foods”, - recalls Tatiana Androsenko.
This, in particular, the use of potash fertilizers to vegetable gardens and pastures, land reclamation, rejection of the use of contaminated products, including wild berries, mushrooms, river fish. Refusal to fertilize vegetable gardens with wood ash, as people in villages are used to doing.
Immediately after the accident at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant, on the territory of the then Ukrainian SSR, there was a state program that provided for such measures. In particular, fertilization, soil reclamation. But at the end of the 90s, funding stopped, and people themselves simply did not know what and how to do.
“When Mr. Kovaka and his colleagues came to locations in the Polesia, they were surprised: what are the big problems there. Besides are the territories contaminated with radionuclides and people live in conditions of additional radiation, they also face other troubles, in particular, diseases. When I showed him a picture of the radioactive contamination of these areas, he immediately had a question: is it possible to help and why the state does not help”, - told the candidate of biological sciences, associate professor of the department of radiobiology and radioecology of the National University of Life and Environmental Sciences of Ukraine Mykola Lazarev.
The Japanese project is the name given to the Foundation's activities in Ukraine. It starts from the villages in the Zhytomyr region: Peschanitsa, Begun and Mozhary, as well as Narodichi and Radinka. Now, says project coordinator Oleg Yarmolenko, 12 schools are involved. These are the villages of the so-called internally displaced persons from the Chernobyl zone - Ovsyuki and Novye Martynovychi in the Poltava region, Stolpyagi, Kovalin, Devichki, Erkovtsi.
The director of the Peschanitskaya school, Mykola Slepenchuk, later headed the Association of Teachers for a Safe Future, which included all these schools. Active cooperation with the department of radiobiology and radioecology of the National University of Life and Environmental Sciences of Ukraine (NULESU), which conducts research on the content of radionuclides in agricultural products, also continued.
“Samples of vegetables, milk, ash were taken for analysis. It was shocking that the content of radionuclides in the ash was on the level "radioactive waste" (> 10,000 Bq /kg). And one girl brought ash, in which the content of radionuclides just went off the scale,” - told Mykola Slepenchuk.
Every year, the Japanese delegation headed by Mr. Kovaka visited the "wards villages". They carried out research, gave their recommendations, assistance with problem children.
Some rural families were provided with completely clean food. So, in the first year of the project, three low-income families from the Begun village (Ovruch area) were given clean products: meat, milk, fish, and others. The participants were obliged not to eat mushrooms and berries, which accumulate radionuclides the most. Further check of health status showed that these people felt much better.
Then foundation decided to expand the project. Every family with school-age children received potash fertilizers. Their introduction is scientifically grounded because it reduces the absorption of radioactive cesium by the plant from the upper soil layer. Research of the level of radioactive cesium in milk and vegetables was carried out not only in Ovruch but also in the Narodichi area. It turned out that in Narodichi, the hygienic standard for the level of radioactive cesium in milk was steadily exceeded by 2 or more times.
In Ukraine, in the post-accident period, many measures have been developed to reduce the intake of radionuclides from the soil into plants and from the diet of pasture cattle into livestock products, and thus to obtain agricultural products with radionuclides content that meets sanitary and hygienic standards. The main developer of almost all anti-radiation measures is the Institute of Agricultural Radiology of the NULESU, which was created after the Chernobyl accident. At that time, it was understood that the main problems after a radiation accident could arise precisely in agricultural production on a territory contaminated with radionuclides. The most effective anti-radiation measure in the long-term period after the accident was a measure involving the introduction of sorbents into the diet of cows.
“There are substances that in the gastrointestinal tract of a cow bind radioactive atoms and remove them from the organism. The most common sorbent is iron hexacyanoferrate (Berlin blue). This technique has been extensively tested in controlled experiments and in production in almost every critical (from a radiological point of view) locality in Ukraine and abroad. That is, if radioactive cesium even comes with feed, then thanks to sorbents it does not enter the bloodstream. Mr. Kovaka was surprised: “Why if there are scientifically proven measures to reduce the levels of radioactive contamination of milk and meat, people still eat radioactive products?” and decided personally verify this information. He agreed to conduct the following experiment. We asked one of the domestic feed mills to prepare a special feed and distributed it among residents of Narodichi, mainly those who have school-age children, for feeding their animals. Along with this, the so-called surface improvement of meadows by liming and applying potash fertilizers was carried out on 30 hectares of natural pasture with the support of the Japanese. Thanks to this set of measures: the introduction of fertilizers on pastures and feeding the cows with a special feed, the level of milk contamination has dropped by more than 10 times. The average level of contamination was at the level of 220-250 Bq/l, and decreased to 4-40 Bq/l”, - told Mykola Lazarev.
Potash fertilizers began to be distributed to all villages-participants of the project.
“We bought fertilizers, distributed them to parents who applied them on their backyard plots. In addition, some pastures (there has never been soil reclamation) were identified where people grazed cows, and reclamation was carried out. Additionally, we gave compound feed to families that kept cattle. All this had a positive effect: researches have shown that the level of radionuclides in products has significantly decreased”, - commented Mykola Slepenchuk.
Mr. Slepenchuk says that he is originally from the Narodichi area and remembers how after the accident at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant, special cars processed roads, roadsides, and even washed roofs. Of course, all of these went into the ground. Therefore, if you grow vegetables or graze cows in contaminated areas, a dangerous "dose" of radiation will simply enter the organism.
In the school of Radinka village, which is about fifty kilometers from the Chernobyl nuclear power plant, are studying 120 children. There is also a kindergarten in this building. It was here that a cyclone dust collector was installed within the framework of the Japanese project. The school is heated with wood, and it is not always possible to check the amount of radiation in this wood. Smoke entering the atmosphere may contain radioactive particles. Inhaling such air, people are more often get sick. In Radinka, this problem is urgent, because the chimney in the boiler room is not high, so smoke can enter the open vents or windows.
“Now, during a pandemic, we especially often need to ventilate the room, which means we must breathe this smoke ... Previously, soot could fly right into the school windows ", - notes the director of the Radinsky school Nadiya Lishilenko.
Ms. Lishilenko recalls: at one time, experts conducted research on the level of cesium in sawdust and found that it was significantly higher than the norm.
“They cut off a dry tree, which grew, maybe 20 meters from the school, in it the cesium content exceeded the norm too", - says Nadiya Lishilenko.
Education is essential for a healthy future
Subsequently, the Ovruch school, whose director Anatoly Nevmerzhitsky is a co-founder of the Association of Teachers for a Safe Future, joined the Japanese project. Here also families of some pupils were given potash fertilizers.
“We support educational activities. We issued brochures, which were distributed among the population, with recommendations on healthy eating and behavior for those who live in contaminated areas. We make reports about food contamination, the health of children. Our school doctors record a positive trend: pupils are less likely to complain of headaches. Education is very important. And especially the children are attracted when Mr. Kovaka from Japan or the scientist Lazarev from Kyiv come to them. Then the information is provided differently", - notes Anatoly Nevmerzhitsky.
Earlier, the directors say, children from these territories were sent to rehabilitation by state expense. Then, due to a lack of funding, it became possible only for low-income families, and now the programs have stopped.
“Most parents do not have such an opportunity. Our region is agricultural, there is almost no industry, people live off their household plots. That is why berries and mushrooms are often the main "income" for most families”, - comments Anatoly Nevmerzhitsky.
Separately, it should be said about the use of mushrooms in food. More precisely, it is necessary to convince the population that they should not be eaten. At the start of the project, samples of mushrooms were taken for research and found that the level of their radioactive contamination reached 76,300 Bq/kg. For example, 5 Bq/kg was found in milk, and 25 Bq/kg in forest berries, which is also a lot. But mushrooms accumulate more radiation, especially if they grow in contaminated areas.
Therefore, recently, schools that cooperate with the Fund for Safe Food and Living have been conducting campaigns to purchase mushrooms from locals for further recycling. People enjoy the "quiet hunt" and get paid for mushrooms, but do not harm potential consumers of these products.
However, it is not easy to convince the population of this region that it is better to refuse mushrooms. That is why systemic outreach is important. It is carried out in all educational institutions of the project participants.
Junichi Kovaka shared his experience of eating mushrooms from the contaminated area.
“After three months, I felt pain in my leg, right under the knee. When I tried to jog for fun, after about 100 meters, my leg muscles ached so much that I could not run at all. Five months later, I was unable to move at all due to back pain. After a few months, the pain decreased, but the discomfort finally disappeared only after four years. In addition to me, at that time five people ate mushrooms, and although it was only once, after a few months everyone felt pain and could not bend their fingers. And the older these people were, the later they feel any symptoms”, - says Kovaka.
The director of the Stolpyagi school Anatoliy Klimenko is sure that the consequences of the Chernobyl accident are still felt. This applies to families of displaced persons, their children, and those who were born and live in less polluted areas.
“We have more than half of the children from displaced families. I became a director in 2001. Then there were many children with neurological diseases. And not only children: adults also have many chronic diseases, people complain of joint pain, meteorological dependence”, - he says.
After participating in the project, a survey was conducted, which showed that the health status of populations has improved.
The community of Novi Martynovichi also felt the positive dynamics after the events held within the framework of the project. School director Igor Zubenko says that their village has been completely relocated from the Chernobyl zone. Now 27 pupils of his school have the status of "Chernobyl victims". Monitoring of children's health was carried out within the framework of the project.
“Conducted educational conversations with parents and children about rational nutrition according to the recommendations of the Japanese. According to our monitoring, pupils get sick less, even with seasonal SARS, and miss lessons less. Positive dynamics recorded”, – he says.
Director of the Devichki school in the Pereyaslav area (Devichki village joined the project in 2018) Marina Kravets notes: first, children with chronic diseases were identified, and a survey was conducted regarding the health status and dietary habits in families.
“When we summed up the results, it turned out that out of 190 children in our school, 63 have diseases. And the musculoskeletal system, and neurological, and cardiovascular ... We received interesting results of this survey: children who often eat forest mushrooms and river fish, mostly have chronic diseases”, - noted Marina Kravets.
Anatoly Nevmerzhitskiy from Ovruch also noted that as a result of systematic work within the framework of the Japanese project, since 2017-2018 the number of diseases of the digestive system among schoolchildren has decreased by almost a third. The same positive dynamics are among the problems with the cardiovascular system. Half as much - with respiratory organs. And the greatest progress is in the improvement of the nervous system.
Directors of the schools note: The Japanese project is both a real help and another reminder to every family: children's health must be taken care of all the time.
“Children`s rehabilitation is the biggest gift for us. It's good that people began to pay attention to those things that previously seemed unimportant. Further, everything depends on each individual family. I teach the subject "Fundamentals of Health" at school, so I keep repeating: we must not forget that nutrition has a great influence on well-being”, - notes the director of the Mozhary school Tatyana Mazur.
The experience of Ukraine can become an example for the all world
It is recorded that before the implementation of the Japanese project, the average level of food contamination with cesium in three Ukrainian villages west of Ovruch (Zhytomyr region) was about 5 Bq/kg. Mr. Kovaka believes that this is enough for 90% of the population of those territories to have health problems. In his opinion, the current international standards for radioactive contamination of food products, which, for example, in the EU for milk of 370 Bq/kg, and for other products 600 Bq/kg, are too dangerous. It is important to achieve a reduction in the standards to 1 Bq/kg and encourage the UN to change these standards.
That is why the results of researches carried out in 12 Ukrainian villages are especially important.
We talked with the candidate of biological sciences, associate professor of the department of radiobiology and radioecology of the National University of Life and Environmental Sciences of Ukraine Mykola Lazarev about the scientific substantiation of the benefits that the implementation of the Japanese project gave.
According to the scientist, radioactive substances enter the organism of a villager mainly with livestock products - milk and meat. The main part of radionuclides, having got into the soil, remains in its upper layer - at the level of 5–10 cm, and remains there for many years. The main part of the root system of plants in natural landscapes is located in this layer of soil.
“Previously, most households kept one or two or even three cows. No special pastures were allocated for them, so people grazed cattle on natural lands. Radioactive cesium (this is the main pollutant) is contained in the upper layer of the soil, and plants absorb it for their metabolic processes. In its chemical properties, cesium is very close to such a macro element as potassium. And when there is enough potassium in the soil, the plants use it, ignoring the cesium. And if there is not enough potassium, plants absorb cesium vigorously”, - explains Mykola Lazarev.
It so happened that the Polesie grounds are poor in potassium, the specialist adds. Domestic animals - cows, sheep, goats - graze where plants actively absorb cesium, so the radioactive element gets into meat and milk.
Why are other foods that people grow in their gardens less polluted? Because on personal plots, a number of conventional agrotechnical techniques are carried out that increase soil fertility and have an anti-radiation effect. Including mechanical processing (plowing or digging the soil), when radionuclides are mixed into a larger volume of soil, and for each unit of its volume there will be fewer radioactive atoms, the contact of radioactive atoms with soil particles (clay minerals) increases, they are firmly fixed by them and become already less accessible to plants. Consequently, in cultivated soil, cesium is diluted and also fixed by the soil.
In addition, Mykola Lazarev adds, often people still apply at least some kind of fertilizer, in particular potassium and organic matter, to their plots, and thereby reduce the coefficient of cesium transfer from soil to plants.
“There is no such practice that every owner keeps a cow in the European Union or Japan. They use intensive technologies, grazing - on cultivated pastures with appropriate processing. Therefore, the transition coefficients will be tens and hundreds of times less than on natural forage lands. There are two ways to break this chain of the transfer of cesium to humans from natural forage lands. The first and most effective is to allocate additional areas or to cultivate existing plots of land, to cultivate, apply mineral fertilizers, and regulate the acidity of the soil. The second is to introduce sorbents into the diet of animals, which enter the gastrointestinal tract, bind cesium, and remove it from the organism. This way it will not get into milk”, - says Mykola Lazarev.
Such measures were introduced within the framework of the Japanese project. Mr. Kovaka reviewed the developments of Ukrainian scientists, and his Foundation financed the relevant practical work.
From the point of science, the specialist also explains the propaganda of not eating wild mushrooms and berries. Since the accident, radioactive substances have been in the forest litter. They are processed by microorganisms, the root system of plants assimilates cesium, it enters the plant - in the leaves or needles. They fall - and the cesium is again in the litter. A certain cycle continues. The mycelium is located in the most mineralized part of the litter. This means that as long as radionuclides exist, until then mushrooms and berries will be an additional source of radioactive contamination and irradiation of the human organism. But in this situation, only a broad explanatory work can give an effect.
As noted by Mykola Lazarev, within the framework of the project, the level of cesium contamination of the children in schools was measured before and after the measures were taken.
“Of course, the level cannot be the same, not only because of the products, but also because of other nuances, but in general we saw that the decrease was halved. In Narodichi and in Ovruch, many parents accepted the program and took care of the health of their children, realizing that it was possible to reduce the level of radiation exposure. Some families, realizing that the plant would be much cleaner on cultivated land, began to use the abandoned fields for forage”, - says the scientist.
However, he admits that it is so difficult to convince people. After all, the local population can pick mushrooms and forest berries in contaminated areas for sale because they don`t have any other sources of income. And it is impossible to test such products in a domestic environment.
“A dosimeter can simply measure the background radiation in the air, but it cannot measure the level of contamination in food. This requires special devices. Unfortunately, the system that existed for 15 years after the Chernobyl accident in our country has been destroyed. While there were collective farms, there were radiologists and special equipment in each locality. Then it disappeared, the positions were laid off, the devices were destroyed. In recent years, local sanitary and epidemiological stations with their radiological departments have also been liquidated”, - says Mykola Lazarev. He reminds us that the level of pollution in food can be reduced, but the level of soil pollution is not. The half-life period of cesium is 30 years. Every 30 years, the level of radioactive contamination of the territory with this radionuclide is halved.
Seeing the results after the measures taken in Ukrainian villages to reduce the pollution of products, the representatives of the Japanese fund have a question. If, having invested a minimum of funds, it is possible to obtain such an effect, then why does the state not do this? But this question remains unanswered. Unfortunately, every year the authorities think less and less about the consequences of the Chernobyl accident ...
Therefore, improving the health of the population and reducing the effects of radiation are now becoming the concern of each individual family. Moreover, this case could be more actively promoted by territorial communities and associations of "Chernobyl victims". The media play an important role in educational activities. Since 2018, the Japan Offspring Fund has media partners in Kyiv, which helping to attract national media, TV, and print media in many regions of the country to inform about the project. Among them are the National Union of Journalists of Ukraine, the All-Ukrainian Charitable Foundation “Journalistic Initiative” and the TV and radio company “Alta”.
In recent years, with the participation of philanthropists in the media sphere and colleagues from the National Union of Journalists of Ukraine, guests from Saitama have organized and held in Ukraine a number of seminars, press conferences, and meetings. Founders talk about the Japanese project in their homeland because their country is also overcoming the consequences of the accident at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant.
The experience of the Japanese project in Ukraine should become the property of humanity. So says Junichi Kovaka, the Japanese who helped perhaps the largest number of people affected by the Chernobyl accident. The methods used in Ukraine have given positive results and can be useful for all countries with problems with radiation pollution.