SAN PEDRO (CBSLA.com) — A project that is scanning the waters off Southern California for any sign of nuclear material from the March 2011 Fukushima disaster in Japan has turned up higher than expected amounts of a radioactive isotope of iodine instead.

Almost a year ago, Steven Manley, a professor of biological sciences at Cal State Long Beach, began a study called “Kelp Watch 2014.” His goal: Finding out if radiation from the tsunami-ravaged power plant has reached North America by examining kelp beds along our coast.

“So far, our tests are negative, which is a good thing,” Manley told KCAL9’s Rachel Kim via Skype on Thursday night. “We do not see any radioisotopes from Fukushima.”

But what the scientists did find was low levels of radioactive material known as Iodine-131 in our waters from the Palos Verdes Peninsula to Orange County. Iodine is commonly used to diagnose and treat thyroid cancers.

“We’ve all been probably swimming in it for a very long time,” Manley said. “But since the concentrations are very low, it’s most likely not a human health risk.”

Manley said the most concentrated amounts were in the Ports of LA and Long Beach. He believes the iodine may be coming from the nearby Terminal Island Water Reclamation Plant, which he says is inefficient in removing iodine from wastewater.

“The risk is very very small. But again, there’s never zero risk,” Manley said. “I’d be more concerned for the marine life. … If the levels were much higher, then we would have to worry about it binding to the thyroid glands of humans.”

Manley said he will work with the LA Department of Sanitation to monitor the level of iodine coming from the plant.

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