The California Department of Public Health (CDPH) conducted a press conference in Sacramento on Thursday, March 17 to address potential health concerns raised by a run on drug stores’ stocks of potassium iodide (KI). Drug stores throughout the state, including Idyllwild Pharmacy, are reporting depleted stocks of potassium iodide, as customers rush to stock the radiation-combating pills as a precaution against spread of radioactivity from Japan’s growing nuclear crisis. “ Customers have bought me out and my suppliers are out,” said Barry Shapiro, owner of Idyllwild Pharmacy.
Dr. Jonathan Fielding, Director of Public Health and Heath Officer, Los Angeles County, said to assembled journalists, “If you’ve already bought potassium iodide, don’t take it. Even with the most severe incidences [anticipated] in Japan, that does not translate to danger in California. Taking potassium iodide will confer no benefit and can be toxic in high doses.”
Jessica Wehrman, a spokeswoman for the American Association of Poison Control Centers, reported seven cases of bad reactions to the drug, including two with serious symptoms of vomiting, racing heart and vertigo.
Fielding explained that 5,000 miles separate California’s west coast from Japan and that radiation will be diluted before reaching California. In addition, the United States government is monitoring possible radiation spread on navy ships offshore from the compromised reactors, by high altitude aircraft across the Pacific, and in monitoring stations along the West Coast. Fielding said nothing indicates, at this point, that any significant radiation levels will reach the U.S. Should that change, alerts would be issued, but officials stressed that is not anticipated.
Dr. Howard Backer, CDPH interim director, noted, “We are in wet weather period [across the Pacific and in California] that pulls radiation out of the atmosphere.” Both officials advised that a more likely peril, for which California residents should be preparing, is a major quake here. “Buy emergency kits for car, home and an outbuilding, with water, food, three to five days of necessary medications, cash, important documents, and battery or crank-operated radios and flashlights,” said Fielding. “If you have other money, send it to Japan, rather than buying unneeded [and potentially harmful] pills.”
By way of comparison of worst-case scenarios, Backer referenced the April 26, 1986 Chernobyl nuclear reactor explosion that initially sent large amounts of radioactivity into the upper atmosphere and released more as the plant continued to burn for a week. Chernobyl is classified as the only class 7 nuclear accident (7 is the most severe accident on the Atomic Energy Commission scale). By comparison, 1979’s partial meltdown at Pennsylvania’s Three Mile Island (TMI) plant bears more similarity to Fukishima. Fukishima is currently rated class 5 (one with more than local consequences), as was TMI. Both centered on reversing a loss of cooling water in the reactor core that exposed highly radioactive fuel rods. Japan had automatic shutdown controls in place, but the tsunami following the 9-point quake wiped out backup power contingencies within a day. TMI involved one reactor. Fukishima involves multiple reactors.
As of Friday, March 18, power had been restored to the stricken Japanese site, aiding engineers in their battle to cool the reactors.
Government investigations following the TMI accident concluded that no radiation deaths or illnesses resulted from the crisis. With 5,000 miles separating Japan and California, unless conditions in Japan change dramatically, it is unlikely that significant radiation increases attributable to the Japanese crisis will affect the U.S.
"We have not detected any increases beyond what you'd expect historically. Nothing you can attribute to Japan," said Philip Fine of the South Coast Air Quality Management District in a public statement.
Check http://homelandsecuritynewswire.com/topics/radiological-threats for more information on radiological threats.