Radiation fears spark demand for Iodine pills

FRESNO, Calif.

"We sold all we had. Sunday morning it ran out and that's it. I've got it ordered from a wholesale manufacturer and they said it wouldn't be manufactured till Friday next week."

It's the same story at the Renge Pharmacy in Chinatown. "They were asking for any type of potassium iodide. Whether it be liquid or tablet."

Pharmacist Mel Renge says he hasn't dispensed any Iodine products for 20 years. After repeated requests from customers he asked his wholesale supplier and was told they don't expect to have any pharmaceutical grade Potassium Iodide anytime soon.

The Japanese nuclear disaster is behind the demand. Taking Iodine can block absorption of radioactive iodine by the thyroid gland, and protect against thyroid cancer. US Navy personnel in Japan who may have been exposed to radiation are being issued the pills. But can the Japanese radiation reach California? Could the winds carry it that far?

Stephen Lewis, a professor of Earth Sciences at Fresno State says unlike a volcanic eruption, it doesn't look like the radiation escaping from the crippled Japanese nuclear reactors is getting high enough into the atmosphere to be a long range threat.

"It seems by watching the video clips of these explosions of these plants it looks pretty dramatic. But it didn't look to me anything like getting clouds of debris 50 or 60 thousand feet into the air which is what it would take to get it into the jet stream."

However, Lewis says wind and water currents do blow from Asia to the US Mainland, carrying pollutants, so it's possible radiation could reach California. The US Nuclear Regulatory Commission has issued a statement saying the level of Japanese reaching the US mainland will not pose a health threat. But people are concerned and online sales of Iodine tablets are surging and Renge says that could pose a health threat.

"There are some side effects that are involved with this. How much is too much is hard to tell because everybody is different. And their bodies are going to process this potassium differently as well. I would definitely use caution with this."

Potassium Iodide can be effective in preventing the Thyroid gland from absorbing radioactive Iodine. Such absorption can lead to Thyroid Cancer. However, the pills must be taken immediately before or after exposure and each dose is only effective for 24 hours. Potassium Iodide does not prevent the absorption of the other radioactive elements that are likely to be carried in any radiation release.

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