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Radiation Concerns In Northwest Drive Iodide Pill Demand

Hansi Lo Wang

Explosions at nuclear power plants in Japan have caused concerns here in Washington state. So far, the Washington state Department of Health has not detected any significantly elevated radiation levels in the state. But that still hasn't stopped people from buying potassium iodide pills in Seattle. Increasing your body's iodine levels can help protect the thyroid gland from exposure to radioactive iodine. KUOW's Hansi Lo Wang reports that local health experts are advising not to take potassium iodide pills — even as a precaution.


Janet Eary: "I certainly would not advise taking them at this time."

That's Janet Eary. She teaches nuclear medicine at the University of Washington's radiology department. She says that at this point, taking too many potassium iodide pills can do more harm than good.

Eary: "Well, you do run some risks of giving yourself some thyroid problems with that. And you might find out that you're allergic to iodine, which is not all that uncommon. And you could also — there is some chance that you could induce a thyroiditis. It's not high, but that is some possibility as well."

Eary says iodine — in its nonradioactive form — is an important element that our body needs.

Eary: "Our bodies require iodine for synthesis of thyroid hormone. And thyroid hormone is one of the main controllers of our body metabolism."

The iodine that our body needs in order to function properly usually comes from what we eat. Here in the Pacific Northwest, we have an advantage.

Eary: "It quite often comes along with salt, and other types of food that have things to do with seawater, because there's a lot of iodine in seawater. So here in the Northwest, we have a lot of iodine in the soil, seafood, things like that."

And Janet Eary says your body's current iodine level may already be enough to protect your thyroid from radiation.

Eary: "Most of us are pretty well blocked. If there were a big contamination in our area, that might be something we would consider. But by and large, we're doing pretty well."

The Washington Department of Health says officials will continue to monitor radiation levels in the air and rain water.

For KUOW News, I'm Hansi Lo Wang.

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