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Surgeon general clarifies position on potassium iodide as protection against nuclear radiation

A spokeswoman for the U.S. surgeon general has clarified her position on whether people should stock up on potassium iodide as protection against nuclear radiation from Japan.

Click to learn more about the effects of radiation Potassium iodide, or KI, can prevent the thyroid from absorbing radioactive iodine, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

During a visit Tuesday to California, U.S. Surgeon General Regina Benjamin appeared to contradict the message from other public health officials that the pills are unnecessary and may have harmful side effects.

"It's a precaution," Benjamin told a Bay Area NBC reporter during a tour of a local hospital.

Benjamin, who rebuilt her Gulf Coast clinic after Hurricane Katrina, framed her comment within the broad context of disaster preparedness.

"We can't be over-prepared -- we learned that with 9/11, we learned that with Katrina and we learned that this week with the tsunami," she said. "Even if it's one life we save by being prepared, it's worth it."

Benjamin told the reporter she had not heard about panicked California residents stocking up on potassium iodide.

Her comments came as state and local health officials attempted to quell Californians' fears after reports of potassium iodide shortages at pharmacies and vitamin stores. Dr. Jonathan E. Fielding, Los Angeles County’s public health chief, issued warnings against taking potassium iodide.

"We want to urge you not to take potassium iodide unnecessarily," Fielding said, noting that some people may be allergic and suffer side effects including intestinal upset, nausea and rashes.

"It's definitely not recommended as a precautionary medication," he said.

On Wednesday, a spokeswoman for the federal Department of Health and Human Services clarified Benjamin's position.

"She commented that it is always important to be prepared, however she wouldn't recommend that anyone go out and purchase KI for themselves at this time," said spokeswoman Kate Migliaccio in an e-mail, referring to the compound by its scientific name.

"It's important for residents who have concerns to listen to state and local health authorities," Migliaccio said.

RELATED:

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Japanese student at UC Riverside finds family alive on YouTube

-- Molly Hennessy-Fiske

Image: Graphic illustrates the effects of radiation exposure. Credit: Amina Khan, Shari Roan, Mark Hafer / Los Angeles Times

 
Comments () | Archives (37)

Yes, don't go out and buy it now. Wait until the cloud of radiation gets to the California coast and then try finding it. Government officials are idiots. They obviously don't care about the health of citizens, they only care about making "politically correct" statements to the media.

Do yourselves a favor. Get 100 days worth of KI pills or Lugol's solution or whatever you can find. That will give you enough to get through 12 half lives of radioactive iodine (8-day half life). The government only recommends 10 days of treatment, but they are the same clowns that have just admitted that their porno scanners at the airports emit 10 times the radiation they should. Good luck trusting the government with your lives. Ask a Indian how that work's out.

Won't it work to eat a lot of salt with iodine?

This woman is probably the least effective Surgeon General in US history. Less than 1% of the public has ever even heard of her. Her effectiveness in her office is not worth 5% of what we taxpayers are paying her.

This Surgeon General is an irresponsible clown who should be fired for offering such ridiculous advice. Look at how her staff now has to cover up for her, issue retractions, try to rephrase the meaning of what she said, etc. Total buffoon.

The radioactive iodine may decay before it will reach the US West Coast (it's half-life is 6 to 8 days). The only likely contamiant we may deal under very grave situation, is the cesium-137 isotope.
The KI will not protect against it.
From 1986 experience, if cesium-137 contamiantion is suspected:
Control the dust; do not use dust blowers!! hose with water instead
Wear long pants and closed shoes
Wash your hair often
Do not wear heavy make-up.

Sounds like we're back to "duck and cover."

I don't think she is a buffoon -- she is telling it straight, but without trying to cause panic hoarding. That is walking a fine line.

Other measures (if radioactive iodine does hit us) would be to take water purification tablets (dissolved, of course) based on iodine, or make a tincture of iodine from crystals.

The US lied to Indians? Oh, you mean Native Americans.

Good luck trusting Mr. Liberty with your lives, America!

Hey, Oleg, thanks for the comment. I thought the half-life was 8 days. Either way, I knew it wouldn't protect against Cesium, but I was wondering how do you stop from ingesting that through breathing? If you breath it, does it get flushed out? If you need to protect from dust on clothing and need to wash down, then why don't you also need a respirator?

Mr. Liberty, I think 100 day supply would probably result in severe damage to the body if anyone were to take it that long. Probably would result in complications leading to death.

As for government advice, you're right. IF the stuff made it over here in record time some how, that would be the wrong time to try to find supply. Beyond the iodine-131 situation, nobody knows for sure what will happen here because we've never had the very very real possibility of multiple uncontained pools of "spent" fuel rods going critical over top of multiple crippled reactors going the same way.

I'm not sure what approximately 6,000 tons of melted, vaporized, oozing, steaming nuke fuel spiced with plutonium could do. I don't think the government can say with certainty either what happens if a 4,000 degree mass meets a water table. How high would that kind of steam explosion go?

There are over a hundred different radioactive elements in the waste from nuclear reactors. This article fails to mention that radiation exposure is cumulative over a lifetime and that the genetic damage it causes can show up in subsequent generations without additional exposure to those future individuals. That damage can result in both physical deformities and mental retardation.

Additional helpful information is that if the exposed fuel rods go critical and uranium and plutonium are released, the dangerous exposure will continue for many times the length of their radioactive half-lives. The half-life of plutonium is over 24,000 years. Plutonium is one of the most poisonous substances on earth in minute quantities.

Also bear in mind that the proposed national repository for radoactive waste in the US was (is) at Yucca Mountain, which is located at the southern NV/CA border area - one of the most seismically active areas in the contiguous 48 states. That facility was designed to hold much less than the 200,000 TONS of high-level toxicity (lethal) radioactive waste the Feds wanted to put there.

And finally, if there's concern on the West coast about the incease in radiation levels from 4 malfunctioning Japanese reactors, stop to consider who's downwind of Yucca Mountain.

And please remember, your vote is your voice.

This is what you get when qualifications and expertise are not part of the hiring process.

Regina Benjamin---Obama's "surgeon general" is trying to back-pedal. She DID push for people in CA to take iodine. Another MD via affirmative action. Kanye West's mom had one---Michael Jackson too--and now this fool is spouting guidelines from her incompetent mouth! UC Irvine med school's "minority" program currently has a student who flunked the MCAT with 20% and earned D's in her undergrad sciences----but will be let loose on an unsuspecting populace as an "MD" like hair-brain Regina.

You odds are greater that you'll die in a vehicle accident than by radiation poisoning from Japan. Shoot. Your risk is higher that a dog will attack and kill you than from radiation from Japan.

Our elite will be protected. Does anything else matter? God bless our elite.

Japan is almost 5,500 miles away! Calm down people!! Typical Americans overreacting! We have nuclear reactors to the north and south of LA. Why all the hysteria. The risk has been here all along.

If you're reading this comment, then you probably took the time to read the other comments as well. I commend you, good sir or madam, for being able to read all those chicken little panicky comments. *slow clap*

America. We panic. We fear. We're stupid.

It's amazing how racist people still are, judging by these comments. Incompetence spans all races folks (clearly -- good job brownie!)

Also, the nuclear plants in the U.S. near the faultlines of Southern California should be shut up down immediately. It has become far too clear that in these situations, the authorities do not have a clue what to do. Remember the oil spill in the gulf that took 3 months to stop? That was only oil...

The paranoids and stupids are out in force I see. Nice to see ya' all.

I just bet the ones stocking up on potassium iodide are the same ones who said Obama was going to take everyone's guns away and went out and bought a bunch of guns and ammo and it's still sitting in the closet.

Maybe I should go into the fear-mongering for profit business. It seems to be lucrative and as P.T. Barnum once said, "There's a sucker born every minute".

After being glued to my TV, reading and absorbing any and all pertinent scientific information and bearing witness perhaps the greatest natural disaster in centuries, another Obamaboob makes an irrational statement that has caused an absolute panic within the public. The pharmacy in which I work has been innundated with requests about KI (postassium iodide). On numerous networks who have interviewed a plethora of nuclear physicists and radiological experts from the most prestegious universities, they say that the risk of the radiation is essentially worse if you live in Colorado Springs at 6000ft. than from a puff of dust that may drift toward the mainland after a 6000 mile journey. The risk will be even more diluted within the ocean. You get more exposure from an X-ray than you will get even if there is a melt down in Japan. This woman should resign or be fired immediately. She's even more incompetent and useless than the President.

By the way, your risk of allergy from iodine is greater than the risk of cancer from anthing that is happening in Japan. And, by the way, even if the risk were significant, it is only thyroid cancer that KI will help prevent. My God, we have hit Third World Level ignorance in the US. I truly fear for the future of our country. Better start learning Mandarin. We're too stupid to defend even ourselves. "We have met the enemy, and it is us". Pogo

Iodine can be used to regulate the thyroid too and should be used in moderation. Set the facts straight and visit http://www.otc-iodine.com. I have been using iodine supplements in my patients long before this ever happened! Like any supplement or medication it should be used with caution and under supervision of a health care provider! Never pay more than usual retail price either!

Last one was just to good-

If it weren't true. US has to much going for it to give up, get rid of your biddings and take back what is great don't let it take this nation.

I bought some, NOT because I'm worried the radiation will reach us from Japan, but because I,m less than 8 miles from San Onofre, a facility that's built to an even lower standard than the Japanese plant that currently has 6 reactors in trouble and or melting down. And I believe were next, there has been a big one in Chili, a big one in New Zealand, and now Japan, thats three corners of the pacific plate, only one left, California. We get a 7.5 or better and those two plants will have MAJOR problems. Better safe than sorry for $30 bucks.

Are all Americans this stupid? There were 2 nuclear bombs dropped in Japan during the war. No nuclear fallout, Americans in the west are not giving birth to aliens. A little leak isn't gonna kill you. I'm not trying to undermine the danger.. wait yea I am. Panic and paranoia of the government is the first thing Americans run to at the sign of disaster.

Don't forget people we had our own fuel meltdown, largest in U.S. history, remember Rocketdyne in chatsworth, ca in the 1950's?

Gee, who cares about taking this "preventive" med? Every wonder that all the lakes and farm land will be coated in radioactive fall out? What are Californians gonna do about that? Cover every speck of farm land with Potassium? Salt every lake with Potassium? IF a cloud gets here you will still be eating and drinking the stuff for a long long while. So, unless you stock up on a lifetime supply, good luck.

 
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