What is KI? KI is short for potassium iodide, an inexpensive non-prescription drug that is an ingredient in ordinary table salt.
How does KI work? If taken before exposure, KI saturates the thyroid gland with safe stable iodine, leaving no room for later uptake of radioactive iodine. It thus protects against thyroid cancer and disease. Very small amounts of inhaled or ingested radioiodine can do grave damage as it will always concentrate, and be retained, in the small space of the thyroid gland, which appears to be the organ most sensitive to radiation.
Will KI protect against all radiation sources? KI does not protect against other poisons released in a nuclear accident. Numerous radioactive isotopes would be released which may be inhaled, ingested, or cause external irradiation.
How can we be sure that KI works? Poland, which also received very serious radioactive contamination from Chernobyl, blocked the uptake of radioactive iodine in 10 million children by administering KI – most received just one dose. Unlike Belarus and the Ukraine, there is no thyroid cancer epidemic in Poland today.
When should KI be taken? The Health Physics Journal, June 2000, states: “KI administered up to 48 h before 131-I exposure can almost completely block thyroid uptake and therefore greatly reduce the thyroid absorbed dose. However, KI administration 96 h or more before 131-I exposure has no significant protective effect.”
Shelf Life: Executive Vice President and CEO of the US Pharmacopeial Convention, Inc., wrote to the NRC in 1998: “the Thyro-Block Tablets, 11 years after their manufacture and eight years after their expiry date, the tablets assayed at 99.1% of the labeled content of potassium iodide.” The FDA has issued guidance for extending KI shelf life.
Is it safe? Are there adverse reactions? KI is FDA approved. A 1982 FDA Report on KI states, “Based on the FDA adverse reaction reports and an 48 million 300-mg doses of potassium iodide administered each year [in the US], the National Council on Radiation Protection estimated an adverse reaction rate of from 1 in a million to 1 in 10 million doses.” (Note that this rate is for doses over twice as large as the 130-mg prophylactic dose.) Potassium Iodide should not be used by people who are allergic to iodide.
Is it expensive? No; individual foil-wrapped tablets cost about 85 cents each, but in bulk the cost is about 5 cents per dose. $1,200 would buy about 75 bottles (15,000 tablets – about 44,000 preschool doses – enough to protect
all of the Cape’s preschoolers for 2 days); $6,000 would protect all of
the Cape’s children.
But aren’t our reactors safe? Pilgrim Nuclear Power Station has an experimental modification to a substandard containment. The inventory of spent fuel is three times the designed capacity. A 1987 NRC study found that Pilgrim’s containment structure is “virtually certain” to fail in an accident.
- World Health Organization
- American Thyroid Association
- Massachusetts Medical Society
- Physicians for Social Responsibility
- Union of Concerned Scientists
- International Agency Atomic Scientists
- National Council on Radiation Protection
- Federation of American Physics
Public Interest Organizations
- Clean Water Action MassPirg
- Toxics Action Center
- Massachusetts Citizens for Safe Energy
- Women’s Community Cancer Project
- Citizens Awareness Network
- C-10 Research and Education Center
- Green Party of Cape Cod
Federal Agencies & States
- US Food and Drug Administration
- US Nuclear Regulatory Commission
- Alabama, Arizona, Maine, Tennessee
Countries which stockpile KI
The United Kingdom, Japan, Canada, South Africa, Poland, Armenia, Switzerland, France, Ireland, Czech Republic, the former Soviet Union, and others
Physicians from Leading Hospitals
- Dr. Richard Clapp, former Director, Massachusetts Cancer Registry; B.U. School of Public Health
- Dr. David Rush, Tufts University, Professor Emeritus Pediatrics; President, Boston Physicians for Social Responsibility
- Dr. Ted Schettler, Boston Medical Center, Department Internal Medicine
- Dr. Lowell Schnipper, Chief of Oncology, Beth Israel Deaconess
What does the government recommend? The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) updated their 1978 guidelines in 1999. Once again, they found KI safe, effective and recommended stockpiling.
“Stable iodine administered before, or promptly after intake of radioactive iodine can block or reduce the accumulation of radioactive iodine in the thyroid.” – World Health Organization, 1999 “A major protective action to be considered after a serious accident at a nuclear power facility involving the release of radioiodine is the use of stable iodide as a thyroid blocking agent to prevent thyroid uptake of radioiodines.” – National Council on Radiation Protection, 1979
Won’t our Health Department protect us? Possibly. The Massachusetts government stockpiles KI for emergency workers and institutionalized populations such as prisoners. Responding to pressure from groups such as Cape Downwinders, and following the lead of the town of Duxbury, which passed a bylaw to stockpile KI, the MDPH is now required by state law to supply free KI to towns on the Cape & Islands and on Cape Ann whose governing bodies request it. Twelve Cape towns did so in April and May of 2003, and they eventually got it.
What about our elected representatives? Legislative bills to provide for the safety of Cape Codders in the event of an accident at Pilgrim date back to 1987. In 1992, 78% of Cape and Island voters approved a citizen’s initiative requesting inclusion in the Emergency Planning Zone, but our government ignored the plea. From 1972, when Pilgrim began operation, until 2002, all levels of government failed their obligation to provide protection for cape citizens in the event of a radiological emergency. Now some towns will get KI. Representative Matthew Patrick has sponsored a bill to conduct a radiological shelter study for our area. If there were a serious accident tomorrow, Cape residents would not be notified, and, with no emergency plan, chaos would ensue.
What can I do?
- If you live in a town which requested KI, visit your town’s Health Department and ask for your supply, and if you have relatives in a Cape school, make sure that their school has a plan for distribution within the school.
- If your town doesn’t have KI, contact your selectmen and demand that they request KI from the MDPH.
- Contact your legislators and let them know your concerns regarding the lack of emergency planning on the Cape and Islands.
With no radiological emergency planning, and because there is no safe dose or dose-rate of ionizing radiation with respect to induction of human cancer, Cape Codders are a population at risk. Regardless of how one feels about nuclear power, public health and safety should be a priority.