Friday, March 18, 2011

japan crisis spikes u.s. demand for radiation pills

NPR | Japan's nuclear crisis is spiking demand in the U.S. and a few other places for a cheap drug that can protect against one type of radiation damage — even though the risk is only in Japan.

Health agencies in California and western Canada warned Tuesday that there's no reason for people an ocean away to suddenly stock up on potassium iodide. Some key suppliers say they're back-ordered and are getting panicked calls from potential customers.

"Tell them, `Stop, don't do it,'" said Kathryn Higley, director of radiation health physics at Oregon State University.

"There's a lot of mythology about the use of potassium iodide," added Dr. Irwin Redlener, a pediatrician and disaster preparedness specialist at Columbia University. "It's not a radiation antidote in general."

The pill can help prevent radioactive iodine from causing thyroid cancer, for which children are most at risk in a nuclear disaster.

Japan's Nuclear Safety Agency has stored potassium iodide to distribute in case of high radiation exposure, and the U.S. Navy is giving it to military crews exposed to radiation as they help with relief efforts in Japan. But government and independent experts say that Americans have little to fear from any radiation released by the damaged Japanese nuclear plant.

"You just aren't going to have any radiological material that, by the time it traveled those large distances, could present any risk to the American public," said Nuclear Regulatory Commission Chairman Greg Jazcko.