Nuclear safety: make sure you have potassium iodide tablets

NEW HANOVER COUNTY, NC (WECT) – There's a global rush on potassium iodide pills as people watch Japan's nuclear nightmare.  Pharmacies in our area say questions and phone calls are coming in because the Brunswick County plant is in our backyard.

According to the health department, potassium iodide (often called by its chemical symbol KI) is an over-the-counter medication that can protect the thyroid gland if a person is exposed to radioactive iodine released during a nuclear power plant emergency. If taken within the appropriate time and at the appropriate dose, KI blocks the thyroid from absorbing radioactive iodine.

According to the US Regulatory Commission the odds of an earthquake caused nuclear failure in Brunswick County is about 1 in 68,000 chance.  While it doesn't sound high, it's a game everyone should be prepared for.

The New Hanover and Brunswick County Health Departments distribute potassium iodide tablets to people who live within a 10-mile radius of the plant.  A supply was handed out last spring and is good until 2014.  Each household gets two pills per family member.

If you live in the emergency zone and don't have two doses for every family member, you can pick it up at the health department for free.  You may also want to contact your vet to learn how to best protect them in the event of an emergency.

People should not take KI unless they are directed to do so.  The FDA has determined the pills can cause minor side effects like gastrointestinal disturbances and rashes.  People with a couple of rare disorders - dermatitis herpetiformis and hypocomplementemic vasculitis - should not take KI.

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