MDPH KI Distribution Efforts

The Massachusetts Department of Public Health long opposed and obstructed KI stockpiling for the citizens of the Commonwealth. So it’s no surprise that the Director of the MDPH Radiation Control Program didn’t understand why, in early 2003, their program to distribute free potassium iodide (KI) pills was so unsuccessful. Perhaps it was because the MDPH put the pills in just five pharmacies across five towns, with no publicity. Or perhaps it’s because Director Robert Walker had been downplaying the need of obtaining the non-prescription drug for those at risk of thyroid cancer on Cape Cod.

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Those who are informed, as the articles below show, want a supply of the pills. Director Walker would do well to learn from Pennsylvania, which actually made an effort to educate the public prior to distributing nearly the number of pills in the entire Massachusetts stockpile – in just six days! – Cape Downwinders

In an article entitled Pills, schmills in the March 28, 2003 edition of the Lynn North Shore Sunday, Joel Beck reported:

“Robert Walker, director of the state Radiation Control Program, is at a loss for explanations. He knows that in the unlikely event of a disaster at any one of the state’s nuclear power plants, including the one in nearby Seabrook, N.H., people would be a lot better off if they had a stockpile of potassium iodide pills, which go a long way toward reducing health risks of exposure to radiation.

With that in mind, Walker says he simply cannot explain why only about 10 percent of eligible Massachusetts residents have taken advantage of the free potassium iodide pills available to them [emphasis added]. As a precautionary measure alone, he says it only makes sense to have the pills handy, but as of yet, people seem unconcerned.

“We just don’t know why,” Walker says. “It’s been nationwide.”
Seventeen other states have tried to distribute potassium iodide pills but have seen similarly low numbers, Walker says. Currently, 88 percent of the pills Massachusetts ordered last year from the federal government remain in the state pharmacy in Tewksbury. In all, just 63,000 out of 550,000 have been given away.

State public health records show that in the six North Shore towns near the Seabrook nuclear power plant – Amesbury, Merrimac, Newbury, West Newbury, Newburyport, and Salisbury – 7.7 percent of residents – or 8,204 people – have picked up the pills.”

The following was excerpted from an article published August 22, 2002 by PR Newswire Association and the Gale Group:
Pennsylvania Health Secretary Notes Success of PA’s Potassium Iodide Distribution; Residents Picked Up 436,300 KI Pills Between Aug. 15 and 21

HARRISBURG, Pa. — On behalf of Pennsylvania Gov. Mark Schweiker, Health Secretary Robert S. Zimmerman Jr. reported that, in the last week, state public-health professionals distributed 436,300 free potassium iodide (KI) tablets to residents living within a 10-mile radius of Pennsylvania’s five nuclear facilities.

KI can add an extra layer of protection in the unlikely event of a release of radioactive iodine. Throughout the week, the department continued to emphasize that evacuation is still the most important action in the unlikely event of a release of radioactive iodine. KI pills only provide temporary protection for the thyroid gland against cancer and hypothyroid conditions, not other types of health problems that may result from exposure to radiation.
Secretary Zimmerman noted that the distribution numbers in Pennsylvania seem to be higher than other states that have offered the tablets. “I’d like to thank the news media for working with us to get excellent information to the public both about KI and about the distribution,” Secretary Zimmerman said.

Tablet distribution in other states that accepted the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s offer of free KI tablets for those in the 10-mile emergency planning zones (EPZs) has averaged about 25 percent. During Pennsylvania’s one-week distribution, 34 percent of people living in the 10-mile EPZs picked up KI. Once business and school numbers are added into the totals, the final number will increase.

The Department of Health asked businesses to schedule KI pick up after the one-week public distribution. Secretary Zimmerman said school districts and their boards have been very receptive to the information the department has sent them about KI distribution. No school districts have yet made final decisions on whether to accept KI for distribution to students and staff.

Two tablets were issued per household member. Public-health officials were on-site for questions. Individuals picking up KI tablets were asked to sign for the KI and were allowed to pick up tablets for their family members and those who are unable to pick them up on their own.

In Montgomery County at the Limerick Fire Station, the county health department and its local emergency-services professionals came up with the novel idea of doing a “drive through” pick up for those who didn’t have questions for the public-health professionals. The planners anticipated, and got, thousands of customers, but were able to easily handle them quickly and efficiently.

People who were unable to pick up KI during the initial seven-day distribution, or who decide at a later time that they’d like to get it, may pick it up at the following sites during normal business hours. There is no time limit for picking up KI at these sites…
In April, Gov. Schweiker accepted the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s offer of KI as an extra layer of protection for Pennsylvanians and was very clear that the best protection in the event of a radioactive iodine release is evacuation. KI is not a substitute for evacuation. It is a voluntary, supplemental protective action.

CONTACT: Richard McGarvey of the Pennsylvania Department of Health, +1-717-787-1783 Web site:

COPYRIGHT 2002 PR Newswire Association, Inc.

In a March 22, 2003 article in the Rocky Mountain News, Rachel Brand wrote, “Until three years ago, potassium iodide’s main consumers were a handful of survivalists, paranoiacs and nuclear-reactor employees. That was before Sept. 11, 2001, before dirty-bomb scares, before Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge’s duct-tape speech and before the war in Iraq. Today, it’s showing up alongside aspirin and antacids in first-aid kits worldwide. Sales are surging as the drug gains renown for protecting against radioactive iodide, a result of nuclear fallout.

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security says the drug belongs in your emergency preparedness kit. The American Thyroid Association recently recommended that states distribute it. And the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Agency will give it free to the 34 states with nuclear reactors.”

“Troy Jones, president of Mooresville, N.C.-based, the nation’s largest potassium iodide distributor. “Sales are unbelievable,” he said. “George Bush’s speech drove sales. It’s really a monitor of America.” Last month Jones sold 180,000 packets of Iosat brand potassium iodide from his Web site. He sold an additional 150,000 packets to hospitals and pharmacies in the United States and abroad. Before the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, sales poked along at 1,800 packets a month. [emphasis added]”

“Scientists confirmed the chemical’s effectiveness after the Chernobyl nuclear accident in Russia in 1986. After a plume of radioactive fallout spread across central Europe, children who didn’t take potassium iodide fell victim to a rare, aggressive form of thyroid cancer.”

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