Japan crisis spurs iodide demand in U.S. and Canada

Tue Mar 15, 2011 7:15pm EDT
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By Laura Myers

SEATTLE (Reuters) - Fears of transpacific nuclear fallout from Japan's reactor crisis have sent consumers scrambling for radiation antidotes across the ocean on the west coast of the United States and Canada.

But health authorities said on Tuesday that fears are unwarranted and warned that people will expose themselves to other medical problems by needlessly taking potassium iodide that they hope will protect them from cancer.

Adding to the confusion were mixed messages from top U.S. federal government officials over the use of iodide.

Energy Secretary Steven Chu told reporters he didn't see a necessity for buying tablets but added "it's a free country", while U.S. Surgeon General Regina Benjamin didn't dismiss it.

"It's a precaution. You mean stocking up here? I haven't heard that. But, I mean, it's a precaution," Benjamin told reporters during a tour of the San Francisco area.

Drug stores and holistic clinics from California to British Columbia have seen a sharp increase in demand for potassium iodide and other potential antidotes to radiation since the Japanese reactor crisis began.

"People are scared and fearful and worried they don't know what's going on," said Leah Adangfry, store manager and herbalist at Seattle's Rainbow Natural Remedies, which is compiling a waiting list.

Potassium iodide is a common form of salt, similar to table salt. It can protect the thyroid gland from radiation and cancer caused by radioactive iodine. Known chemically as KI, it saturates the gland with non-radioactive iodine, reducing how much dangerous radioactive iodine it can absorb.   Continued...

<p>The No.3 nuclear reactor of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant at Minamisoma is seen burning after a blast following an earthquake and tsunami in this handout satellite image taken March 14, 2011. REUTERS/Digital Globe/Handout</p>