Revelstokians hunt for potassium iodide pills after Japan radiation leak

A local pharmacist reports there's been "a constant stream" of customers requesting potassium iodide pills, which they hope to take to protect themselves from possible radiation exposure.

A local pharmacist reports there’s been “a constant stream” of customers requesting potassium iodide pills, which they hope to take to protect themselves from possible radiation exposure.

Peoples Drug Mart pharmacist David Lafreniere says the pharmacy has been advising those seeking the pills not to take them. They don’t have any in stock and haven’t handed any out.

He said the risk of exposure to radiation in B.C. is “so low that it makes no good sense,” he said. He notes official assessments that radiation released in Japan would be widely dispersed before it reached B.C.

“I’m immediately steering everyone clear from it,” said Lafreniere. “Risks severely outweigh the benefits … there really [are] no benefits.”

Lafreniere said taking the pills can also have negative health impacts, especially if doses are incorrect. He lists nausea, stomach ache, diarrhoea. Some people may have more severe reactions, such as irritation to the eyes, severe headaches, swelling of the throat and neck and possibly decreased thyroid function.

In addition, potassium iodide pills partially protect the thyroid gland from radiation exposure, but not other systems in the body.

Lafreniere also notes that Health Canada has advised against taking or hoarding the pills.

The B.C. Office of the Provincial Health Officer issued an advisory on Mar. 14 advising residents not the take potassium iodide tablets.

Here is that advisory:

Radiation from Japan poses no health risk in B.C.

Office of the Provincial Health Officer

March 14, 2011

British Columbia’s Provincial Health Officer Dr. Perry Kendall today issued a statement reassuring British Columbians that there is no expected health risk from radiation at the Japanese nuclear power plant.

“Based on present information, we do not expect any health risk following the nuclear reactor releases in Japan, nor is the consumption of potassium iodide tablets a necessary precaution.

“Small amounts of low level radiation released from the nuclear reactors in Japan will have been dispersed in the atmosphere there and are not a health risk to British Columbians.

“Modelling of possible scenarios suggest that any release into the atmosphere of nuclear particles would take five to six days to reach British Columbia, by which time it would be so dispersed as to be not considered a health risk.

“As a result of the terrible tragedy, emergency officials in British Columbia remain in constant contact with Health Canada, the lead department responsible for co-ordinating Canada’s nuclear emergency response. The BC Centre for Disease Control, provincial and federal governments as well as Washington State and international authorities such as the World Health Organization continue to monitor the events, including radiation levels. To date, there have been no reports of nuclear particles from the facility in Japan reaching the west coast of North America.

“It is recommended that pharmacies do not dispense or stockpile potassium iodide tablets. Some pharmacies are reporting a run on sales of iodide tablets, which can protect the thyroid gland from the impact of being exposed to high-levels of radioactive iodine 131.

“The consumption of iodide tablets is not a necessary precaution as there is no current risk of radiological I131 exposure. Even if radiation from Japan ever made it to British Columbia, our prediction based on current information, is that it would not pose any significant health risk.”