Crucial protection in radiation emergencies 3/11
(This article is adapted from the Health Blog at Consumer Reports Health.org.)
The current nuclear reactor disaster in Japan reminds us of the "lessons learned" from earlier nuclear accidents and the steps we can take in advance to prepare for radiation emergencies.
One crucial step to prepare against radiation exposures is having a supply of potassium iodide pills on hand. By taking the pills, the risk of thyroid cancer from the radioactive iodine is reduced. The pills saturate the blood with harmless iodide and block the thyroid gland’s uptake of radioactive iodine. Infants, young children, and pregnant and nursing women are particularly at risk from radioactive iodine. People 40 and older are at lower risk.
According to Consumer Reports, people living within 100 miles of a nuclear power plant should consider keeping a supply of the pills, particularly if they live with children. The pills should be taken as soon as there's a confirmed report of radiation leakage from a nuclear plant, though they may still provide substantial protection if taken three or four hours after exposure.
The pills are available over-the-counter without a prescription. Some pharmacies sell them and they're also available online at Anbex.com and Thyrosafe.com. Brand names include IOSAT (130 milligrams) and ThyroSafe (65 mg). For dosing information and how to use them with infants and children, read the labels and see the Food and Drug Administration's website.
Note: If you live within a 10-mile radius of a nuclear power plant in the U.S., you may be able to receive free potassium-iodide tablets by contacting your local school board, your county office of emergency management, a local public health agency, or the local power plant.
It is important to note that while KI pills can reduce the risk of thyroid cancer, they do not protect against radiation poisoning (nausea, vomiting, or bone-marrow depression), which might strike people living very close to a plant that has released huge amounts of radiation. Also, potassium iodide doesn't protect against other radiation-induced cancers. So if there's a major radiation leak, it's important to leave the area and seek a supply of uncontaminated food and water. For detailed advice on sheltering and evacuation, check the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s planning guide.
Home Preparation Procedure for Emergency Administration of Potassium Iodide Tablets to Infants and Small Children
American Thyroid Association- Questions and Answers about Potassium Iodide (KI) Pills
Centers for Disease Control: Radiation Emergencies
Protecting Yourself and Your Family