March 17, 2011

Nuke Fears Trigger Spike In US Sales Of Iodide Pills

Fears of radiation sickness amid Japan's ongoing nuclear crisis have triggered a surge in U.S. sales of potassium iodide.

Potassium iodide (KI) is a salt that saturates the thyroid gland with non-radioactive iodine, lessening the amount of radiation the gland can absorb.

Alan Morris, president of Anbex, the main U.S. manufacturer of KI tablets, said Wednesday that the company had run out of stock after a spike in U.S. demand generated by the ongoing crisis at the Fukushima nuclear plant in northeastern Japan.

"As of March 14, 2011, Anbex is out of stock of IOSAT(tm). New product is expected by April 18, 2011," read a notice on the company's website.

"The spike is enormous ... we were out of stock by Friday night," Morris said.

"The demand mostly is coming from the west coast of the U.S., but there are a significant number of inquiries, requests, orders coming from Japan, Korea, all over the Far East," he told the AFP news agency.

Online retailer nukepills.com said on its Twitter feed that it had sold out of potassium iodide pills on Tuesday.  The company received 3,800 orders in just 18 hours on Sunday, and has shipped 50,000 pills to Tokyo with the help of Harvard Medical School, BBC News reported.

Anbex is the only US manufacturer of potassium in pill form, although a liquid form of KI is available from Fleming Pharmaceuticals, Morris said.

A statement on Fleming's website said the company was "running nearly around the clock as employees ship potassium iodide to Japan."

Debby Fleming Wurdack, co-owner of the firm, told BBC News the company would be out of stock by late Wednesday.

"This is insanity," she said, adding that Fleming had received more than 350 calls with orders from customers ranging from housewives to state governments on Tuesday.

It also received orders from companies aiming to send KI to their employees in Japan.

Wurdack said Fleming had ordered additional raw materials to manufacture more KI solution, and expects the heightened demand to continue for months.

The run on KI coincides with comments made by the head of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, who warned that there is no water left in the spent fuel pool of the Fukushima plant's No. 4 reactor, which has resulted in "extremely high" levels of radiation.

Federal authorities have repeatedly said there is minimal risk of radioactivity reaching the U.S., although meteorologists say they cannot precisely predict how far a radioactive plume would travel across the Pacific.

The U.S. government maintains a stockpile of potassium iodide in case of emergencies, and recommends that states have sufficient amounts on hand for residents in a 10-mile radius of nuclear plants.

For maximum effectiveness, potassium iodide should be taken before exposure to radiation.  The protective properties of the salt last about 24 hours.

Japanese authorities say they have distributed 230,000 units of KI to evacuation centers in close proximity to the Fukushima complex.


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