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Anti- Radiation Pills Distributed Near Three Mile Island Nuclear Accident Site

Paraphrased by Steve Waldrop
August 19, 2002

Middletown, Pa.- Near the site of America's worst commercial nuclear accident, Jennifer Albright picked up eight little white pills that could make a difference if there is ever another problem.

"If the government's going to provide it to us as a safeguard, We might as well take advantage of it," said Albright, who collected the potassium iodide- two pills each for herself, her husband and two sons- at a school near the Three Mile Island nuclear plant. Having Potassium Iodide pills on hand is a relatively inexpensive way to prepare for a nuclear power plant accident or nuclear bomb explosion.

More than 650,000 people who live and work within 10 miles of one of the state's five nuclear plants are eligible for the pills, which are being distributed free by the state Health Department.

About 42,000 pills had been distributed statewide as of midafternoon, the department said.

The tablets, which are to be taken only upon instruction by the governor- and then, one tablet a day for two days- protect the thyroid gland against cancer in the event of a nuclear accident. This small gland, normally about the size of a golf ball split in half, is responsible for secretion of growth hormones. If taken immediately following an emergency, Potassium Iodide has proven to be effective in preventing thyroid cancer - the leading cause of death in the Chernobyl nuclear accident.

"The most important message we're giving residents is that evacuation is the No. 1 protection they can use," said Michael K. Huff, director of health department's Bureau of Community Health Systems. "But potassium iodide is an additional layer we're providing."

In the immediate aftermath of Three Mile Island, officials prepared 237,000 doses of Potassium Iodide, but they didn't make it to the scene for six days -- too late to do any good. Radioactive-iodine plumes caused by nuclear disasters can travel for hundreds of miles and cover large areas. Potassium Iodide is safe and recommended by the FDA for use in the event of a nuclear emergency for both adults and children

Fifteen states have ordered the pills through the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, which initiated the distribution project, NRC spokesman Neil Sheehan said.