Potassium Iodide (KI) is in suddenly high demand following the nuclear disaster in Japan, where the cancer-preventative chemical has been distributed to those who may have been exposed to radiation.
In the wake of the recent earthquake and tsunami tragedy in Japan, politicians and community members are asking questions about the safety of Entergy’s Indian Point Energy Center (IPEC) in Buchanan. But also, like many around the country, residents are worried about their own safety and asking where they can get their KI.
As of Monday afternoon, Linda Puglisi, Supervisor of the Town of Cortlandt, in which IPEC is located, had only received two phone calls asking about potassium iodide (KI) pills, which help protect against thyroid cancer, a major risk following radiation exposure, according to the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC). But the United States’ only two FDA-approved manufacturers of KI are being inundated with thousands of phone calls from Asia and from distributors around the country asking for more supply, according to CNN.
The federal government only has enough KI available for populations living within 10 miles of nuclear reactors, according to the U.S. government. In June 2002, local officials distributed KI pills to people living within a 10-mile radius of Indian Point. Then, the community was focused on the risk of a terrorist attack, rather than a natural disaster. Local emergency officials explained to residents that the KI pills had prevented thyroid cancer, especially in children, following Chernobyl’s 1986 nuclear plant explosion.
The pills are supposed to “stay fresh,” for five to seven years, according to the New York State Department of Health, which most likely means those 2002 pills have expired or are less effective. To find out where to pick up KI pills see the list at the end of this article. Call ahead to be sure they still have a supply.
Potassium Iodide, which also comes in liquid form, works by protecting your thyroid from radioiodine, which could be released into the air by a radiation emergency at a nuclear plant. KI prevents radioiodine from filling the thyroid and potentially causing cancer.
However, the chemical does not give a person 100 percent protection against radioactive iodine. How well it works depends on how much time passes between contamination with a radioactive iodine and the taking of KI; how fast it is absorbed into the blood; and the total amount of radioactive iodine to which a person is exposed, according to the U.S. Center for Disease Control.
Some do not believe that taking KI will be the most protective action people can take in the event of a radioactive emergency. Dr. David J. Brenner, director of the Center for Radiological Research at Columbia University, told the New York Times that KI pills are protective but are a “bit of a myth.” He explained that the pills fill the thyroid with ordinary iodine in hopes that it prevents it from taking up the radioactive form of iodine. Brenner said that there is a higher risk of people getting radioactive iodine into their systems from eating contaminated crops or drinking tainted milk, which are completely vulnerable and become unavoidably exposed to radiation.
Despite varied opinions on KI’s effectiveness, in 2001 the Food and Drug Administration and the New York State Department of Health recommended those who live within 10 miles of a nuclear plant to take the KI in case of an emergency.
How do you know if it is an emergency?
Sirens: Sirens will sound within the 10-mile radius of Indian Point (the Emergency Planning Zone–EPZ). Sirens do not mean to evacuate. They are a message to turn on your radio, television or computer to tune into an Emergency Alert System (EAS) station near you. You can find EAS stations in the Westchester County Indian Point Emergency guide that is mailed to EPZ residences every year. It is also attached to this article next to photos under the “pdf” tab.
Indian Point officials will broadcast instructions, which could include to stay indoors, take the KI pill and give the pill to your children, or to evacuate.
Evacuation: People who may have no place to go can go to a reception center, which are located in schools outside of the Emergency Planning Zone. The booklet reminds people:
-be sure your area is being ordered to evacuate
-do not evacuate unnecessarily
-arrange to leave as soon as possible and keep windows closed
-refer to the evacuation supplies checklist in the booklet and bring those supplies with you
-most likely children in schools will be relocated by school authorities and you would meet them at their school reception center
-evacuate to a location outside of the EPZ using the most timely route.
For more details on evacuation and preparedness download the Westchester County Emergency Guide.
On Sunday, the U.S. NRC said there was an extremely low likelihood of radioactivity reaching the shores of the United States, but American fears easily persist as complications at the Fukushima Daiichi plant, such as ruptures and fires, cause radiation levels to continue to rise. As recently as Wednesday morning Japanese officials announced that a reactor unit at the Fukushima Daiichi plant may have ruptured and be releasing radioactive steam.
Here is a list of where you can receive potassium iodide in your community, be sure to call ahead:
Village of Briarcliff
Municipal Building, 1111 Pleasantville Rd., Briarcliff Manor, 941-4800
Village of Croton-on-Hudson
Municipal Building, 1 Van Wyck St., Croton-on-Hudson 271-4781
Town of New Castle
Town Clerks Office, Town Hall, 200 Greely Ave., Chappaqua 238-4771
Town and Village of Ossining
Community Center, 95 Broadway, Ossining, 941-3189
Town of Somers
Supervisors Office, Town Hall 335 Route 202, Somers, 277-3637
City of Peekskill
Office of Emergency Management, 4 Nelson Avenue, Peekskill Call ahead, 862-1020/862-1424
Town of Yorktown
Community and Cultural Center, 974 Commerce Street, 962-5758 or John Hart Library 1130 Main Street, 245-5262
Westchester County Department of Emergency Services; Main Office, 4-Dana Road, Valhalla, 231-1850