Canadians buying potassium iodide in bulk over fears of Fukushima radiation

Posted by in Blog | Comments Off on Canadians buying potassium iodide in bulk over fears of Fukushima radiation

Health officials in the coastal Canadian province of British Columbia are cautioning residents not to try and qualm fears of radioactive contamination by ingesting mass quantities of potassium iodide.

Journalist Dan Fumano of BC’s   The Province newspaper wrote this week that potassium iodide  pills have been flying off the shelves of area drug stores after  reports published on the internet advised people that illnesses  brought on by nuclear radiation can be remedied by taking regular  doses of the inorganic compound.

The British Columbians buying those pills, Fumano wrote, are  largely fearful that nuclear waste leaked into the Pacific Ocean  three years ago by the destruction of the Fukushima  power plant across the pond in Japan is washing up on their  shores.

But while potassium iodide does indeed possess its fair share of  positive qualities, experts say ingesting those pills is  unnecessary and could cause lead to potentially dangerous  overdoses.

Fumano wrote that potassium iodide sales in BC surged immediately  after the Fukushima disaster, and have again in recent months  started to climb. At least one pharmacist he spoke with said  she’s been sending people out of the door of her drug store when  they request the quasi-cure-all pills.

“There were other instances where rumors have been rampant  and misinformed the public, but nothing to the degree that  (Fukushima) has,” pharmacist Pam Magee told him.

According to Magee, customers have been coming into her store  asking for potassium iodide doses that are hundreds of times over  the recommended intake.

“I only know the litany of pathologies that can ensue with  this kind of dosing,” she told Fumano. “I always warn  people against it and they often go away mad and exasperated by  my stupidity.”

Other experts in the field agree. The Health  Physics Society says on their website that Kl — the  scientific shorthand for potassium iodide — “has been  erroneously represented as a ‘magic bullet’ of radiation  protection.”

“KI, if taken properly, only protects against internal  radiation from radioiodine taken into the body,” the website  warns. “It will not protect against external radiation or  internal radiation from radionuclides other than  radioiodine,” and even then will only spare the human  thyroid from any radiation-induced effects.

Immediately after the Fukushima disaster, Dr. Glenn Braunstein of  the Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, California told  the   Huffington Post that the amount of radiation from Japan that  would ever end up across the ocean would likely be “less than  the radiation one could get in flying from Los Angeles to New  York.”

“I think I would describe it as subclinical panic,”  Braunstein added at the time. “I think there’s a lot of  concern out there because radiation — you can’t see it, you  can’t feel it, but everybody knows it has potentially disastrous  results.”

Three years later, that panic is again on the rise in British  Columbia.

“If I lived next door to Fukushima, or somewhere in that  area, I might well consider having KI, or potassium iodide, in my  medicine chest. But not here,” BC health officer Dr. Perry  Kendall added to The Province. “We wouldn’t recommend it,  because it wouldn’t convey any benefit, and it might convey some  risk.”

According to the US Food and Drug Administration, potassium  iodide overdoses can cause shortness of breath, difficult  swallowing, fever and joint pain, and could warrant immediate  medical attention in some cases.

Meanwhile, British Columbians aren’t the only ones in the area  concerned. The Department of Environmental Conservation in the  adjacent state of Alaska   announced on Thursday this week that officials there are not  actively testing fish for nuclear radiation amidst similar fears,  but that data from BC authorities and federal agencies say so far  there isn’t anything to worry about.