TURN DOWN NUCLEAR ATTACK PROTECTION DRUG
SAY FAMILIES SHOULD BUY THEIR OWN SUPPLY
David M. Bresnahan
WASHINGTON -- A small
pill may save the lives of your family in the event of a nuclear
accident or terrorist attack, but those pills are not on hand in most
states so you could be in big trouble.
Potassium iodide, known as KI, is a nonprescription
drug that is proven to prevent thyroid cancer if taken immediately after
a nuclear accident or attack. Thyroid cancer is the main cause of death
after radiation exposure, but it can be prevented by daily doses of
potassium iodide, because it effectively protects against absorption
of radioactive iodine.
The federal government
is quietly stockpiling the radiation protection drug on military bases
and in the offices of emergency workers, but the average member of
the public will not get pills from the government and must buy and
store their own supply.
The Department of Justice
has previously announced that nuclear plants are a target for terrorists.
The release of radiation in a nuclear plant attack could kill millions
unless they take the potassium iodide immediately after such an attack.
Most countries in Europe
have either already distributed the life-saving pills to the public
or are in the process of doing so. The U.S. does not plan to take
Only three states are
distributing limited amounts of the life-saving pills even though the
drug has been made available to all 50 by the Nuclear Regulatory
Commission (NRC), according to a report on CNN Headline News Tuesday.
Very few members of the public even know potassium iodide exists.
Politicians are worried that if people have the pills they will not
respond to evacuation orders, or that distribution will cause panic.
Activists on both sides of the nuclear plant debate believe that public
knowledge of potassium iodide will somehow hurt their cause.
Commission (NRC) has found that potassium iodide is a reasonable,
prudent and inexpensive supplement to evacuation and sheltering for
specific local conditions. The Commission left it to the states to make
a final decision on whether to use it in their emergency preparedness
program, but decided to fund the initial purchases of potassium iodide
for any state that decided to stockpile it,"
said the recommendation from the NRC.
The NRC only has
$800,000 to fund initial stockpiles of potassium iodide for "one to
two doses for individuals within about 10 miles around each plant."
People further away are not included in the program, and the supply that
is given to people will only last at the most for two days.
The is no law or
regulation preventing the public from buying the pills, but locating a
supply source is difficult - and most of the public is unaware the pills
"Because FDA has
authorized the non-prescription sale of 'radiation emergency potassium
iodide,' it is legally available to organizations or individuals who,
based on their own corporate or personal analysis, choose to have the
drug immediately available," according to NRC Information Notice
In 1979 there were no
potassium iodide pills on hand locally when the Three Mile Island
nuclear accident took place. An emergency shipment was manufactured and
brought in by the Air Force - six days late. Local officials secretly
locked up the pills in a warehouse and never distributed them because
there were not enough for everyone and they did not want to panic those
who would not get a supply. Fortunately the accident was controlled and
the pills were not needed.
In 1986 the pills did
save lives when the Chernobyl nuclear plant blew. The people living in
the 19 communities in about a 30-mile radius of Chernobyl had been
provided with potassium iodide. Only now is the impact of that pill
becoming known. There are about 11,000 cases of children with thyroid
cancer as of the year 2000, with 97 percent of them living more than 30
miles from Chernobyl where the pills were not distributed - many as far
as 200 miles away.
"It should be in
the medicine chest," said Irwin Redlener, president of the
Children's Health Fund and president of the Children's Hospital at
Montefiore Medical Center in New York, speaking to News Day.
"Potassium iodide is one of the few things we can do that will,
without question, save lives if there is some kind of nuclear
Cost to states is not
an issue because the NRC has funds budgeted to pay for the pills so
states can have them for free, but there are few takers. The New York
Times reported that the cost to the government is 17.8 cents per pill.
Readers of InvestigativeJournal.com are now http://InvestigativeJournal.com/ki1.htm
able to purchase their own bottles at about 13 cents a pill while
limited supplies last.
The Journal of American Medicine has issued instructions to doctors on
how to deal with a terrorist nuclear attack, as well as how to deal with
the effects of biological and chemical weapons of mass destruction. The
NRC issued a report stating that the only way to protect people who do
not have potassium iodide is to evacuate them from the area, which the
report acknowledges is difficult in the event of a large catastrophe.
The World Health
Organization, the Food and Drug Administration, the American Thyroid
Association, and other agencies all claim that potassium iodide is a
Many other countries
around the world have been passing out supplies of potassium iodide to
the general public since the beginning of the year, according to press
reports in the New York Times and foreign papers. Even countries like
Ireland, with no nuclear plants, has distributed potassium iodide to
everyone in case an attack occurs in England and the wind carries
radiation across the Irish Sea.
"The U.S. military
overseas, their families, U.S. civilian workers and contractors may be
at risk from hostile actions and other events against nuclear power
plants resulting in radioactive iodine release," wrote William
Winkenwerder, assistant secretary of defense for health affairs in a
Nov. 19, 2001 memorandum. He directed the Army, Navy and Air Force
commanders to assess the risk to troops and to develop
"implementation plans on the use of potassium iodide."
The military and
federal agencies are quietly stocking up, but only for their own people.
States have been given the responsibility for local populations, and few
are responding, which means the average citizen may not be able to get
the pills fast enough. More importantly, the NRC supply is only around 8
million. Even if the states accepted the offer from the NRC the
available supply is inadequate to meet the need.
There are other small
stockpiles, such as the 1.6 million pills the Department of Health and
Human Services has hidden in a warehouse, but the time required to get
the supply to the area where it is needed is significant.
The reality is that the
stockpiles of potassium iodide are insignificant compared to the
potential need, and the supply is not likely to increase in the near
future. Unless concerned individuals purchase their own supply it is
unlikely they will have the pills if the need arises.
Potassium iodide can be
purchased by individuals without a prescription, but it is not readily
available, and those who do have supplies are selling it for nearly $1
per pill in a package of only 14 pills. In an effort to help it's
readers, Investigative Journal.com has negotiated with a supplier to
provide family size bottles of the pills for about 13 cents per pill
with reduced prices for multiple bottles.
Orders can be placed securely by credit card or electronic check by
clicking here while supplies last. The pills must be taken immediately
if there is a chance of radiation exposure and then every day for as
long as the risk continues. Instructions recommend that adults take two
85 mg pills per day and children take one. Purchasers should read the
detailed information that comes with each bottle.
Radiation can remain
for an extended time after an accident or and attack. One bottle is
enough for a family of four for one month. Possible locations for
personal storage of the pills may be in 72-hour kits, first aid kits,
each vehicle, at work, and perhaps in a vacation home or RV so each
family member can get a dose as quickly as possible in an emergency.
recommend that every single family stock potassium iodide tablets. It is
not good enough to be in a central repository. If you don't take them
very shortly after exposure - within a couple of hours - they lose their
efficacy. If it's more than six hours, it does nothing. Don't
bother," recommends Redlener.
To receive an automated
e-mail containing answers to frequently asked questions written by the
NRC, send a blank e-mail to [email protected]
© David M. Bresnahan - All Rights
David M. Bresnahan [email protected]
is an award-winning independent investigative journalist. He maintains an
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