- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 17, 2002

RICHMOND The state this week will begin distributing pills that would prevent one type of radiation poisoning in the event of an accident or terrorist attack at Virginia's two nuclear power plants, Health Commissioner Robert B. Stroube said yesterday.
One dose of potassium iodide, used to block radioactive iodine in the thyroid, will be given to each of the estimated 330,000 people who live or work within 10 miles of the plants near Mineral in central Virginia and Surry in southeastern Virginia. The state will keep an additional 330,000 doses in storage for emergency distribution.
The drug will be handed out over the next few weeks at 18 locations, starting at noon tomorrow at the Peninsula Health Department in Newport News and the Isle of Wight County Health Department in Smithfield. Residents will have to show proof of identification and residence to obtain the drug.
President Bush signed a bioterrorism bill in June that requires potassium iodide to be available to all residents living near nuclear power plants. Sixteen of the 33 states with nuclear reactors asked the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) to provide potassium iodide, and Virginia is the 11th state to begin distribution, according to the American Thyroid Association.
Dr. Stroube said residents should store the medication in a convenient place and should not take it unless his office instructs them to do so during an emergency.
"Potassium iodide is most effective if taken within a few hours before, during or immediately after exposure," Dr. Stroube said. "The medication can help prevent thyroid cancer, especially in children."
Potassium iodide saturates the thyroid with safe iodine and blocks radioactive iodine from entering. The use of the drug in Poland after the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear plant disaster in the former Soviet Union was credited with greatly reducing the number of thyroid cancers.
One tablet is believed to protect an adult's thyroid gland for about 24 hours long enough to give the person time to evacuate the danger area. The drug does not protect against other illnesses caused by radiation.
"This is a supplement to the evacuation and sheltering," said Dr. Khizar Wasti, director of the state health department's Division of Health Hazards Control. "It is not a substitute for evacuation."
Alan Morris, president of Anbex Inc., which manufactures the drug, noted that the American Thyroid Association recommends making potassium iodide available to people who live up to 50 miles from a nuclear plant.
Dr. Wasti said the 10-mile limit was set by the NRC, not state health officials.
"That's the most susceptible area, within 10 miles," he said. "All the modeling they've done shows the chances of radioactivity going past that is almost negligible."
Some states have elected not to distribute the drug, fearing that it would lull residents into a false sense of security. Dr. Wasti said Virginia officials rejected that argument.
"Our feeling was that we will not mandate it, but give the option to the public leave it up to them," Dr. Wasti said.
The Food and Drug Administration approved over-the-counter sales of potassium iodide in 1982. Mr. Morris said some drugstores stock the drug, which also can be purchased over the Internet.
People allergic to iodine should not take potassium iodide, the health department said. Also, people with certain thyroid diseases and skin diseases should consult their physician before taking the drug.


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