July 20, 2008

Pills for Nuke Plant Incident Still Good

By Rory Sweeney, The Times Leader, Wilkes-Barre, Pa.

Jul. 20--Checking the shelf life of the potassium iodide pills would be right up there with mowing the lawn on the priority list of people within the 10-mile emergency zone of the Susquehanna nuclear plant.

But if people did notice -- or there was a catastrophic incident -- they might be concerned.

According to the stamped date, the pills expired in August of last year.

Not to worry, though. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration concluded earlier last year that "it would be scientifically valid" to extend the expiration date two years, according to a letter to the state Department of Health. "They're actually good until August 2009," said Holli Senior, spokeswoman for the department, which distributed the pills in 2002.

Pills of potassium iodide, which is also known as the formula KI, won't block the absorption of radioactive iodine, which can be released during a nuclear emergency. But the pills do protect the thyroid gland, which quickly absorbs iodine and would be damaged by the radiation, according to the national Centers for Disease Control. The KI pills work by releasing so much iodine that they effectively fill the gland for 24 hours.

But people shouldn't just pop a pill if they hear the nuclear emergency sirens. Radioactive iodide isn't always released, and KI pills have side effects. Health officials will announce over television and radio broadcasts when to take a pill, according to the department.

Replacement pills can be obtained from the department through a state health center. Call 1-877-PA-HEALTH to locate a facility.

For more information on potassium iodide pills, go to the state Department of Health's Web site at www.dsf.health.state.pa.us. Type "potassium iodide" into the search box in the top right corner.


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