The news from Japan is horrifying. I cannot imagine the mental anguish over there, facing a nuclear accident on top of the earthquake and tsunami. Japan in particular must have a terribly cultural memory and fear of radiation.
If there is a full scale meltdown, it could affect us in the United States. The radioactive plume will come our way – our weather patterns flow from the west to the east.
This type of fallout won’t melt our faces off like a Hollywood movie, but it can cause health problems, most notably cancer. Children, pregnant women, and breastfeeding women are the most susceptible to the effects; adults over the age of 40 are less likely to see effects in their lifetime.
I tried to find out more details of how a nuclear event in Asia will affect the USA, but all of the data I was able to come up with was the documentation after the US used nuclear weapons on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1944. I read that in America, the childhood cancer rate doubled for whites and tripled for non-whites just a few years later, from 1948-1951. (I haven’t had time to track down the original source, I’ll link up if/when I do)
Now you know I’ve been encouraging you to become prudently prepared for unforeseen events, and sometimes that means preparing for things that may never happen (and, hopefully won’t happen!) Honestly, preparing for a nuclear disaster was at the very bottom of my list. I never thought it was anything to worry about. Now, it could potentially affect me and my family.
Is there anything you can do to protect your family?
Yes, there is.
*disclaimer- I’m not a doctor, just a mom who’s spent a lot of time lately trying to find out how to keep her family safe, and I’m sharing that info with you, mah peeps!*
One of the biggest threats to our health, should there be a nuclear accident in Japan, is from the radioactive iodine, I-131. Our bodies concentrate iodine in the thyroid, and thyroid cancer is a well-documented side effect from exposure to I-131.
BUT, if you saturate the thyroid with stable, non-radioactive iodine, then the thyroid gland will not absorb the radioactive iodine.
The FDA has approved three different potassium iodide (KI) sources for protection against a nuclear accident.
The recommended dose for protection is 130 mg. KI for an adult or a child approaching adult size (over 100 pounds), 65 mg. for children. Doses should be repeated every 24 hours, and supplementation should take place at least 30 minutes before anticipated exposure.
There are other potassium iodide supplements available at vitamin and health food stores, but the dose of iodine in them is mcg- micrograms. There are 1000 mcg in a mg, so it would take a lot of those pills or drops to make 130 mg.
They are handing out potassium iodide tablets in Japan; if there is an emergency here health officials could recommend Americans take doses in the near future. The FDA reports that short term supplementation is generally safe, especially for young people.
Unfortunately, the potassium iodide tablets are hard to come by in your average town, although they are readily available on the internet. The government has some in stock in case of an emergency, and some states have given vouchers to households located near nuclear facilities.
What can you do if officials recommend iodine supplementation? Is there anything you can do if you don’t have time to wait for shipping, or if you can’t get to a government distribution spot?
YES! Iodine can be absorbed through the skin, and topical iodine solutions are common and cheap. According to this site, painting the skin with 8 mL of 2% iodine solution is an equivalent dose of the recommended 130 mg. The info is based on a small study done in 1989, “Effectiveness of Skin Absorption of Tincture of I in Blocking Radioiodine from the Human Thyroid Gland”
Bottles of 10% providone-iodine solution or Betadyne are available at grocery stores. I saw some at Kroger today and I bought some at WalMart last night.
The 10% bottles contain 1% iodine, so an adult would need twice as many mL as the 2% solution. Apply 16 mL of providone-iodine, painting it on the forearm or stomach or other thin skin. A child would need 8 mL applied. Again, start application at least 2 hours before the exposure, and repeat every 24 hours for the duration of the event.
16 mL is slightly more than 3 teaspoons or 1 tablespoon.
If you are considering preparing for a nuclear accident, please read the whole FDA document. There are special considerations for breastfeeding women and doses for infants and young children. Check with your doctor to make sure it’s safe for you to supplement and won’t interact with your medications (and check before you need to know!)
The potassium iodide only offers protection from radioactive iodine, I-131.
Want to learn more? Check out:
Shelter in Place During Radiation Emergencies, from the CDC
Comprehensive list of government links, from FEMA
Grassroots Radiation Monitoring Map of the USA, in real time
Nuclear Energy 101 how Fukushima happened
Do you think a meltdown in Japan will affect us here?
Iosat (potassium iodide pills) is currently (Monday night) available at Drugstore.com- 14 adult doses for $9.99. If you use my affiliate link you can get a discount on your purchase, click the orange banner.