- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 24, 2003

Ingesting potassium iodide would protect against cancer after a nuclear explosion but not after a dirty bomb blast, according to a study published in today's Journal of the American Medical Association.
Potassium iodide pills could block thyroid cancer after a nuclear bomb or nuclear reactor meltdown on the same scale as Chernobyl or larger, said doctors attending a recent forum sponsored by the American Thyroid Association and the American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists.
But in the event of a so-called dirty bomb attack, which terrorism experts believe is much more likely than a thermonuclear blast, potassium iodide would be useless, said Dr. E. Dillwyn Williams, emeritus professor of histopathology at the University of Cambridge, England.
Dr. Williams and other speakers at the forum said a dirty bomb uses conventional explosives to disperse radioactive material and would not produce iodine 131, the key radioactive isotope, in the resulting fallout.
"As fears of nuclear terrorism rise along with apprehensions about conventional and biological attacks, some media outlets have recommended that residents of large U.S. cities keep a supply of over-the-counter potassium iodide on hand," Brian Vastag wrote in JAMA's April 23 edition.
In February, the Homeland Security Department initiated a readiness campaign against terrorist attacks that lists potassium iodine as the top item to be kept in an emergency kit.
"If there is a significant radiation threat, health care authorities may or may not advise you to take potassium iodide," says the information on preparing for a nuclear blast.
"Potassium iodide is the same stuff added to your table salt to make it iodized," the guidelines say. "It may or may not protect your thyroid gland, which is particularly vulnerable from radioactive iodine exposure."
To protect against a dirty bomb, however, the Homeland Security Department offers little advice except to "limit exposure."
"The farther away you are away from the blast and the fallout the lower your exposure," the precautions state.
The most conclusive data on potassium iodide comes from studies after the 1986 partial reactor meltdown at Chernobyl in the former Soviet Union. Data collected from 25,000 children in Belarus and Ukraine showed potassium iodide was effective if taken right after the first exposure.

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