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Japan’s nuclear crisis poses no local risk

Panic prompts surge in demand of kelp products

Japan’s nuclear crisis poses no local risk

The panic over radiation coming over from Japan has prompted a run on kelp products, which contain iodine. Sheri's Health Food Inc. in Turlock has been selling out of Kelp products within hours of ...

POSTED March 18, 2011 8:17 p.m.
Given the uncertainty of Japan’s nuclear reactors, Stanislaus County government officials are monitoring the situation daily, but are advising residents not to act overly hasty.In particular, the Stanislaus County Health Services Agency is urging residents not to take potassium iodide as a precautionary measure to radiation exposure.According to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, Japan's nuclear emergency presents no danger to California.We want to emphasize that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services have all stated that there is no risk expected to California residents as a result of the situation in Japan,” stated Gary Hinshaw, Assistant Director of Stanislaus County Office of Emergency Services. “While we are actively monitoring this situation, our thoughts are with the people of Japan at this tragic time.” Potassium iodide tablets works by flooding the thyroid with non-radioactive iodine, which prevents the absorption of harmful radioactive molecules in the thyroid. However, taking the tablets when there has been no exposure to radiation can cause serious health problems. Potassium iodide tablets can present a danger to people with allergies to iodine and shellfish and to those who have thyroid problems. Taken inappropriately, it can have serious side effects including abnormal heart rhythms, nausea, vomiting, electrolyte abnormalities and bleeding. The demand for potassium iodide, as well as kelp products, which contains iodine, has soared across the country, particularly along the West Coast. Sheri’s Turlock Health Foods Inc., on Lander Avenue reports they have been selling out of kelp products at a breathtaking pace. “We got a supply in on Tuesday morning and by Tuesday afternoon we were sold-out again,” said Lydia Beccard, a sales clerk at the store.Beccard said the mood of customers coming in to purchase the kelp products has been one of panic and that the store is doing their best to educate people on the proper usage of kelp, which can create thyroid problems if not taken correctly. “People are scared and panicky,” Beccard said. “We’ve been telling people to take a deep breath and educate themselves. People are exposed to more radiation getting their teeth x-rayed at the dentist’s office than what is coming over from Japan.” Beccard’s advice is an echo of what scientists and health officials have been telling the public. Any radiation reaching the West Coast is at such miniscule levels that it does not pose any health risks to residents. Given the run on potassium iodide, the Food and Drug Administration is warning people about imposter pills being sold.In a statement on their website, the FDA said, “The FDA is alerting consumers to be wary of internet sites and other retail outlets promoting products making false claims to prevent or treat effects of radiation or products that are not FDA-approved.”­Consumers should be wary of the following:
  • claims that a product not approved by FDA can prevent or treat the harmful effects of radiation exposure;
  • suggestions that a potassium iodide product will treat conditions other than those for which it is approved, i.e., KI (potassium Iodide) floods the thyroid with non-radioactive iodine and prevents the uptake of the radioactive molecules, which are subsequently excreted in the urine;
  • promotions using words such as “scientific breakthrough,” “new products,” “miraculous cure,” ”secret ingredient,” and ”ancient remedy”;
  • testimonials by consumers or doctors claiming amazing results;
  • limited availability and advance payment requirements;
  • promises of no-risk, money-back guarantees;
  • promises of an “easy” fix; and,
  • claims that the product is “natural” or has fewer side effects than approved drugs.
While radiation sickness is not a threat in the United States, it remains a very real concern for the people of Japan.Japan’s nuclear agency has raised the crisis level at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant from a four to a five on the international scale. The Chernobyl disaster in 1986, considered the worst nuclear disaster in history, was ranked at seven. The Three-Mile Island incident in 1979 was rated a five.Of most concern right now for the nuclear power plant are the spent fuel rods in reactor 4. The spent fuel rods generate heat and need to be kept in pools of water to keep them cool. The fear is that those pools of water may have boiled dry, increasing the chances of radiation being released into the environment. Japan’s Self-Defense Forces have been using water cannons and dumping water from helicopters in an effort to keep the roads cool, but so far, the water is not lasting very long in the pools.Additionally, engineers have been working tirelessly to restore power to two reactors at the plant, in the hopes that it would help with cooling. However, their work has been hampered by rising radiation levels that have forced temporary evacuations of the plant.Even if power is restored to the plant, experts are unsure if it will help cool the damaged reactors. The fear is that the hydrogen explosions that previously occurred have left the reactor buildings damaged beyond repair.Stanislaus County officials are following guidance from the California Department of Public Health, as it monitors the situation closely in conjunction with state and federal partners, including NRC, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the U.S. Department of Energy, FEMA Region IX, and the California Emergency Management Agency.Residents with questions about radiation exposure can contact the California Department of Public Health's Emergency Operations information line at (916) 341-3947. The California CDPH has also posted frequently asked questions on radiation at their website at To contact Sabra Stafford, e-mail or call 634-9141 ext. 2002.

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