Suppliers see big demand in U.S. for anti-radiation pills
Published: Tuesday, March 15, 2011 at 4:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, March 15, 2011 at 7:27 a.m.
Fear of nuclear fallout from Japan's earthquake- and tsunami-battered nuclear power plants has created a nationwide scramble for potassium iodide, a compound that can protect thyroid glands from radioactivity.
"We sold out," said Maxine Ward, who works in the supplement department of the Ukiah Natural Foods Co-Op.
The store has sold about 100 bottles of supplements containing potassium iodide since Friday, she said.
Potassium iodide is a stable form of iodine used in tablet form. The International Atomic Energy Agency said over the weekend that Japan had distributed 230,000 units of stable iodine to evacuation centers near the damaged nuclear plant.
Nuclear and health authorities say people in the United States are overreacting and warn that the treatment is limited and can be harmful.
Ward has ordered more potassium iodide, but national retail suppliers have been swamped with requests.
"They're all out of stock," said Leila-Anne Brusseau, at Santa Rosa Community Market. The store normally does not stock the product but has been trying to get some because of demand.
"I'm getting a call every five minutes," Brusseau said.
She said her main supplier told her they'd sold out after filling 1,200 orders in the first half hour of business on Monday.
Troy Jones, owner of nukepills.com, a worldwide distributor of potassium iodide said his stock was depleted by 5,000 orders, 6,000 bottles, rolling in between Friday and Monday morning.
"We are so slammed," he said, noting that normally he would have had about 60 orders during that time.
Jones also donated 50,000 potassium iodide tablets -- ones not packaged for retail use -- to Japan, where he said it's more likely to be needed.
He agrees with health and nuclear authorities, who don't believe there's a significant threat of nuclear fallout in the United States from the plant malfunctions in Japan after the 9.0 earthquake and tsunami.
The United States is "not expected to experience any harmful levels of radioactivity," the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission stated in a press release.
But since then, the situation at the Fukushima Dai-ichi Nuclear Power Station has worsened. A third explosion was reported at one of the plant's three reactors and workers were being evacuated, illustrating the fast-moving nature of the crisis.
"Everybody is on the edge of their seats waiting to see what happens in the next couple of days," said Alexandra Von Meier, a nuclear reactor expert and director of Sonoma State University's Environmental Technology Center.
"The really scary thing is, they have three reactors in crisis at the same site. If one reactor were to have a very serious melt with a release that contaminates the site, then the site won't be safe to have workers on the site trying to manage the other reactors," she said.
State Department of Health spokesman Mike Sicilia said radioactivity levels in California are monitored by state and federal officials and there should be plenty of warning if a threat were to materialize, which he said was unlikely.
In the absence of real danger, the nationwide rush to buy the medicinal iodine is "unfortunate," said Sonoma County Deputy Health Officer Dr. Mark Netherda.
"It would be dangerous and not wise to take iodine without a reason," said Dr. Craig McMillan, Mendocino County's public health officer.
Doing so can be harmful to people with allergies to iodine and shellfish and could trigger thyroid problems in other people, they said.
The compound's uses are limited, they said. It is effective only at keeping the thyroid gland from absorbing radioactive iodine, which can cause thyroid cancer. It does nothing to halt other side effects of nuclear fallout, Netherda said.
It's generally recommended only for people who are within 10 miles of a nuclear facility that is emitting radioactive materials, he said.
An uptick in sales of items recommended for emergency kits also has been reported, although nowhere near the magnitude of the rush for potassium iodide.
"For sure," said Marc Abbruzzese, manager of REI on Santa Rosa Avenue.
At Sonoma Outfitters in Santa Rosa, owner Jay Knick said, "We definitely have seen people coming in for filters, water filters, stoves, freeze-dried foods, headlamps. They see what can happen, and that's the big motivator," Knick said.
All rights reserved. This copyrighted material may not be re-published without permission. Links are encouraged.