In the midst of Japan’s nuclear crisis, demand for iodide pills rises near leaky Pickering plant

In the midst of Japan’s nuclear crisis, demand for iodide pills rises near leaky Pickering plant

Pickering A nuclear generating station (Image: ilkerender) 

With the news that Japan may be on the brink of a serious nuclear crisis, Ontarians living near the Pickering power plant seem to be increasingly worried about the adverse health effects that come with living near a nuclear reactor. Those fears got an extra boost when it was discovered that the plant leaked tens of thousands of litres of demineralized water into Lake Ontario. Experts say that the risk posed to locals is “negligible,” but that hasn’t stopped people from planing for the worst. The Toronto Sun reported yesterday an increased demand for potassium iodide pills at pharmacies in the plant’s surrounding areas. While potassium iodide can help prevent thyroid cancer caused by radioactive iodine, it’s probably not as effective as people think.

Due to increased requests, drugstores in the Pickering area are apparently dispensing the same amount of potassium iodide daily as they would normally dispense in a year (although with four people a day asking for the pills, there doesn’t exactly seem to be a line down the block for the stuff).

Pickering isn’t the only place experiencing increased demand for the pills: all over the United States, Americans are stockpiling in case dangerous levels of radiation from Japan’s nuclear crisis reaches the West Coast of the United States (even though U.S. health officials maintain it won’t).

According to the Associated Press, potassium iodide does indeed shield the thyroid from radioactive iodine, which is particularly important for children and pregnant women in the event of nuclear exposure (a growing thyroid is more likely to absorb radioactive iodine). However, potassium iodide does not protect any other part of the body, nor does it protect against any other type of radiation; it also isn’t considered useful for anyone over the age of 40. And so, it would seem that potassium iodide’s benefits, like their demand in Pickering, seem to be blown out of proportion.

Demand for iodide pills rising near nuke plants [Toronto Sun]
• Japan crisis spikes demand for radiation pills [Associated Press]
Group questions nuclear safety after Pickering leak [CTV]