Radiation detection continues at O'Hare

March 18, 2011 9:19:41 AM PDT
Federal agents are screening planes, cargo and passengers arriving from Japan at airports nationwide, including O'Hare International Airport.

Several families who live and work in Japan arrived at O'Hare Friday morning. They decided to return to their hometowns fearing the threat of nuclear radiation.

"I just wasn't willing to risk my health and my life. I don't play games with that and so I closed down my business and I don't know if I'm going back there or not. I don't know," said Kevin Palmer.

Palmer and his girlfriend teach English to Japanese students. After they shut down their business in Norita, they went straight to the airport where they stayed for three days until they got a flight out. Palmer said he believes the situation at the Fukushima nuclear power plant is much worse than the government is saying.

"We have a round-trip ticket for two weeks, and I don't know if we're gonna be able to go back. If it's safe and they say it's safe, I don't know. I'm still wary about it," said Palmer.

Craig Nixon teaches in Japan as well. He took days off and brought his family to the Midwest after his worry grew. He's a native of Eagle River, Wisconsin, and will drive there and stay until he feels comfortable about bringing his family back.

"Obviously, you don't want to get radiation, you know, I got two little kids I'm concerned about," said Nixon.

"The amount of radiation that they were detecting from the news reports was out of the normal-ordinary, but not a risk to your health whatsoever," said Jerry O'Sullivan, who lives in Japan.

"The people told us they were checking every checked bag for radiation," said Susan Skinner, who arrived from Tokyo.

Homeland Security officials ordered the screenings as a precaution after cargo on board a United flight from Tokyo set off radiation detectors in Chicago. Radiation detectors at the Seattle and Dallas airports also detected low levels of radiation on flights from Japan.

"We are aware that they're working with the customs border protection on this issue," said Rosemarie Andolino, Chicago aviation commissioner.

Officials say the levels detected are not harmful.

"We pick up radiation every day when we fly, you know, so we're up there in the sky so you can't help but get something," said Carol Wiedemann, a veteran flight attendant returning from Japan

A number of people on board the flights arriving from Japan say they were motivated to leave the country because of radiation fears.

"I decided I wanted to stay until I felt I was no longer safe, and that was when the U.S. embassy was sending home families. That was kind of what made me decide to come home," said Michael Jones, who arrived at O'Hare from Tokyo.

Officials stressed that even if a person or their baggage sets off the radiation detectors, the levels are low and not harmful.