Japan is still struggling to cope with its worst-ever nuclear disaster at the stricken power plant in Fukushima Prefecture, but concerns over radioactivity in food and drinking water had been easing over the past few weeks, at least outside the most-contaminated areas near the plant. In some prefectures, previously banned shipments of certain vegetables have since resumed, as repeated tests showed declines in contamination levels.
Before the latest case of Kanagawa tea leaves, the last time any prefecture outside Fukushima reported higher-than-permissible contamination in any agricultural product was spinach from Ibaraki Prefecture on April 12, according to Japan's health ministry.
According to Kanagawa officials, a sample of tea leaves collected May 9 from the city of Minamiashigara, in the western part of the prefecture, was found to contain 550 becquerels of cesium per kilogram in the first test; the second test of the same sample detected 570 becquerels. The difference between the two readings is within the margin of error in such tests, the officials said.
Since the discovery, the prefecture has suspended shipments of tea leaves from all of Kanagawa, not just Minamiashigara.
Kanagawa tested tea leaves for the first time because local farmers were about to start shipping this year's tea leaves they had just picked. The prefecture had been testing other agricultural products, but hadn't found any problems of excessive contamination.
"Before the tea leaves, Kanagawa's other agricultural products had shown no apparent increase in the amount of radioactive materials," which had always been well below the Japanese government's regulatory limits, said Hideto Funahashi, a Kanagawa government official in charge of the prefecture's agricultural issues.