- PHOTO BY STEVE E. MILLER
- LET THE FREAK OUT BEGIN! : In light of the ongoing Japanese nuclear disaster, Californians are stocking up on thyroid medications containing potassium iodide, such as Thyrosafe (pictured), even though health officials say there’s “little possibility” that radiation levels here will be affected.
Though state and county officials have repeatedly stated that Californians need not worry about nuclear fallout from the Japanese disaster reaching the West Coast, their words haven’t alleviated concerns from coastal residents, hundreds of whom are scrambling to obtain thyroid medication. Some would-be entrepreneurs are trying to capitalize and profit on those fears.
“There is no imminent danger to the citizens of California, nor is there indication there will be due to the incident in Japan,” said Tina Walker, chief information officer for the California Emergency Management Agency (CalEMA). Instead, Walker said, recent events should serve as a reminder to be prepared for any emergency—namely earthquakes—in the state.
San Luis Obispo County Office of Emergency Services Manager Ron Alsop reiterated that the county isn’t expecting any increases in radiation levels, but added that residents in the defined emergency planning zone surrounding the Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant are always advised to keep a small supply of potassium iodide at home in the “unlikely event” of radioactive release from the plant.
Potassium iodide tablets help prevent thyroid cancer due to nuclear radiation.
Alsop explained that there’s some public misconception about potassium iodide: “People are a little excited, but it’s worth it to note that [potassium iodide] is only one little tool to protect the thyroid, which is only one organ in the body. It would be our plan to evacuate everyone before potassium iodide would even be needed.”
SLO County Public Health Emergency Preparedness Program Manager Michelle Shoresman said the county has plenty of potassium iodide supplies for those living in the vicinity of Diablo Canyon, with reserves for others who are concerned.
Despite the call for calm, residents throughout the Central Coast have descended upon the County Health Department and local private pharmacies, looking to score their supply—and perhaps more than their own share.
Dana Nelson, owner of Healthplus Pharmacy in San Luis Obispo, told New Times the business had received roughly 300 phone calls from people seeking potassium iodide on March 15 alone. The pharmacy typically gets about five to 10 calls for the over-the-counter drug per year.
“It’s time to be cautious, time to be prudent, but it’s not time to bend over and kiss your ass goodbye,” Nelson said.
He said at least one person came to Healthplus to obtain her free supply, as well as to purchase additional quantities to “sell on Craigslist.” Residents outside the emergency area are allowed to purchase extra quantities.
Meanwhile, county health officials warned that potassium iodide is not necessary for local residents due to the reported releases of radiation in Japan, and told New Times that individuals should only ingest the medication at the direction of a county health officer.