Nursing Update on Radiation Risk
While disasters (and possible disasters) make better press, the report from a number of agencies this week is that West Coast residents (and anyone in the rest of the U.S.) shouldn't be worried about a plume of radiation from Japan. In a March 17 briefing by the California Department of Public Health (CDPH), Howard Baker, MD, interim director, said shifting winds and a forecast of rain for the weekend make it unlikely radiation from an unstable nuclear reactor in Fukushima, Japan, would hit the coast.
He added there has been no increase in radiation detected by any of the agencies, including the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, who monitor and track radiation. EPA has posted portable radiation monitors in Alaska, Hawaii, Guam and the Northern Mariana Islands to keep an eye on real-time developments. Even if any radiation did arrive, it would be so diluted that it wouldn't pose a health threat. According to the Radiation Network, background radiation levels from stations on the West Coast were pretty normal on March 18, 2011.
Despite this good news, drug stores on the West Coast can't keep potassium iodide (KI) tablets on the shelves. People are snapping them up like Cadbury eggs in the mistaken belief KI will prevent radiation poisoning or other diseases associated with radiation.
It won't. KI is prescribed to block uptake of radioactive iodine in the thyroid, but it's not a magic bullet. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, KI doesn't prevent radioactive iodine from entering the body or protect the body from radioactive elements other than radioactive iodine-if radioactive iodine is not present, taking KI is not protective. It can only protect the thyroid by blocking radioactive iodine from being taking into it. And, like many other drugs, it can have nasty side effects, including abnormal heart rhythms, nausea, vomiting, electrolyte abnormalities and bleeding. KI also can present a danger to people with allergies to iodine, shellfish or who have thyroid problems. Backer said it is a toxin in high doses, with no benefit and some risk.
Jonathan E. Fielding, MD, MPH, director of public health and health officer for Los Angeles County, urged Californians to focus on things they can control, rather than events that might never happen. People react strongly to the word radiation, he said, but the event should serve as a reminder to everyone that it's critical to be prepared for any emergency, including the floods and earthquakes that definitely are in California's future.
Experts agree California will be hit by a massive earthquake sometime in the next 30 years - and they don't know when. Fielding urged people to create disaster plans for themselves and their families. Sample lists of what you'll need proliferate online, but you'll find 72hours.org to be a good resource. A presentation of the San Francisco Department of Emergency Management, the website will help you determine your risk, make a disaster plan and an emergency kit to help get you through the first few days after an emergency.
Are you prepared for an emergency? What steps have you taken, or what do you need to do to be prepared?