Illinois State Water Survey program set to monitor US radiation levels, Illinois State Water Survey

ISWS Press Release

For Immediate Release March 18, 2011
Illinois State Water Survey program set to monitor US radiation levels
Contact:    Libby Johnston, Communications Director - (217) 244-7270,

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. - The National Atmospheric Deposition Program, coordinated by the Illinois State Water Survey is preparing to provide rain samples for radiation measurement if called upon by federal agencies as a result of the current nuclear power plant disaster in Japan.

NADP operates three networks that monitor precipitation chemistry across the U.S. and Canada, including the National Trends Network with 250 sites (see map.) It is the only national-scale network providing a long-term record of precipitation chemistry in the U.S. NADP and the Illinois State Water Survey are part of the Institute of Natural Resource Sustainability at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

“We have been contacted regarding the availability of samples for radiation monitoring and we expect to provide the first samples as early as March 18,” said David A. Gay, Ph.D., program office coordinator for NADP. “Since we anticipated this possibility, we have prepared a sampling plan and procedures. We have begun to save our precipitation samples for possible further analysis going back to March 8 and will continue as long as the possible threat exists.”

“NADP was called upon to provide samples for radiation measurement across the U.S. after the Chernobyl accident in 1986,” said William W. Shilts, Ph.D., executive director of the Institute of Natural Resource Sustainability. “It’s the only program in the country with the ability to provide rain and snow samples collected from hundreds of locations across the nation because of its extensive network. Science and service to address emerging environmental issues is a hallmark of the Illinois State Scientific Surveys, and this is just one more example of our value to the people of Illinois and beyond.”

As a part of their preparation for handling the samples, Gay and his staff contacted the University’s division of research safety. They were told that current radiation levels in the U.S. resulting from the Japanese disaster may be near measurement thresholds but they do not pose a health threat to staff or the public.

Even if the program sees increasing radiation levels in rainwater in the future, it is very unlikely the levels will be high enough to become a health hazard. Radioactivity can be detected at very low levels, far below that which might cause a health risk.

“At this time, any radioactivity in rainwater around the U.S. is expected to be extremely low and near natural background levels,” said David Scherer, assistant director of research safety and head of the radiation safety section. “If there is a significant release, the majority of the fallout is expected to deposit over the Pacific Ocean. 

“There are radiation monitors on the West Coast and throughout the U.S., and we will be alerted to any potential concerns well before we would receive those samples.”

NADP has collected weekly rainwater samples since 1978. These samples are measured for acids, nutrients, major ions, and mercury. Since NADP does not analyze for radiation, if a study is ordered, portions of these samples would be sent to an outside laboratory to analyze the samples for radioactive fallout.

Locally, the nearest National Trends Network monitoring site is south of Bondville in rural Champaign County.

NADP is a cooperative program receiving support and participation from more than 100 private, state, and federal organizations. Its objective is to characterize the chemical climate of the U.S. and to make information available on trends in atmospheric deposition—information that is vital for addressing environmental, agricultural, and health issues.

The Illinois State Water Survey is part of the Prairie Research Institute at the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign. It is the primary agency in Illinois concerned with water and atmospheric resources.

The Institute is the home of the Illinois State Scientific Surveys: Illinois Natural History Survey, Illinois State Archaeological Survey, Illinois State Geological Survey, Illinois State Water Survey, and Illinois Sustainable Technology Center. It was established by statute July 1, 2008 and builds on the Surveys’ reputations for basic and applied research and service. With 700 employees and a budget of more than $60 million in applied science, Institute scientists work to support economic development and natural and cultural resource sustainability for Illinois and beyond.

Map is available in high resolution at

National Atmospheric Program National Trends Network


William W. Shilts, Ph.D. – (217) 333-5111 or

David A. Gay, Ph.D. – (217) 244-0462 or

David Scherer – (217) 244-7605 or

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