The Pennsylvania Department of Health is providing communities near nuclear plants with free stockpiles of potassium iodide (KI) to prepare for radiation emergencies.
Residents who live within a 10-mile radius of one of the state’s plants can pick up the KI at one of 14 distribution centers until 7pm Thursday. Residents who miss the distribution can get it from the health department at any time.
When taken before radiation exposure, KI can protect the thyroid gland from absorbing radioactive iodine that leads to throat cancer.
“The program started in 2002 when the Nuclear Regulatory Commission offered up free KI tablets to any state that had nuclear power plants. We wanted to be able to provide that added benefit of protection to the residents in those emergency planning zones,” said Jeff Blystone, Pennsylvania Bureau of Community Health Systems Director by phone Thursday.
Residents were provided with 48 hours’ worth of KI for each person in their household. If there is an incident, people should be “taking these along with evacuation,” Blystone said.
It’s common for the public to react to perceived nuclear and biological threats by stockpiling medical countermeasures. After the Fukushima Daiichi Disaster in 2011, California residents flocked to their local pharmacies for potassium iodide fearing radiation from Japan would reach the West Coast. The anthrax attacks of 2001 caused people to stockpile Cipro, an antibiotic used to treat anthrax exposure.
KI won’t protect against all forms of radiation so people should only be stockpiling when it’s provided by public health officials and taking it only when given an official order, Blystone said.
From an HSS spokesperson: "Keeping potassium iodide on hand is a prudent preparedness measure but only one small aspect of preparedness for nuclear/radiological disasters. Preparedness measures also include being prepared to shelter-in-place or evacuate as directed by local officials. Knowing what KI can and cannot do is important."
Click below to download an HHS KI fact sheet explaining what it is, how it works, it's benefits and limitations, and where else to get it.
photo by TVA Web Team/flickr