West Coast radiation risk low, but fears persist

LOS ANGELES/VANCOUVER Thu Mar 17, 2011 6:24pm EDT

1 of 4. Senior Air Quality Instrument Specialist Albert Dietrich inspects South Coast Air Quality Management District's Radnet sampler, which is monitoring the level of radioactive particles, in Anaheim, California March 17, 2011. Small amounts of radioactive isotope from Japanese nuclear power stations are expected to hit Southern California late Friday.

Credit: Reuters/Lucy Nicholson

LOS ANGELES/VANCOUVER (Reuters) - North America is at little risk of receiving harmful levels of radiation from Japan's nuclear crisis, officials said on Thursday, but that has not stopped a scramble on the West Coast for items like potassium iodide and Geiger counters.

Low concentrations of radioactive particles from Japan's stricken nuclear plants are expected to drift over the Pacific Ocean, but nothing has been detected by U.S. or Canadian monitoring stations, officials said.

Health and safety authorities sought to reassure nervous residents that any radioactive particles would disperse as they cross the Pacific from Japan and not pose a public risk when they arrive. Even President Barack Obama weighed in.

"We do not expect harmful levels of radiation to reach the United States, whether it is the West Coast, Hawaii, Alaska or U.S. territories in the Pacific," Obama said in a televised statement. "That is the judgment of our Nuclear Regulatory Commission and many other experts."

Officials have said it would take five or six days for any particles to cross the ocean. Vancouver is more than 4,700 miles from Tokyo, while Los Angeles is over 5,400 miles away.

Public fear about the situation in Japan can be seen in prices being charged for online purchases of the potassium iodide antidote and Geiger counters that measure radiation.

At least five merchants on Amazon.com were selling packages of potassium iodide tablets for between $300 and $400, far above the usual list price of $10. Two big online sellers said on their websites they were sold out.


Potassium iodide tablets can saturate the thyroid gland and prevent the absorption of radioactive iodine. When given before or shortly after exposure, that can reduce the risk of cancer in the long term.

Health officials warn potassium iodide can pose its own risks if misused.

"People should not take it anywhere in North America for the things that are happening in Japan," Donn Moyer of Washington state's Department of Health told Reuters.

Moyer also discouraged people from shopping online for home remedies they hope will protect them in case of a fallout emergency.

"Number one, there is no need to protect yourself because there is no threat. And number two, some of those things might make you sick," Moyer said.

The British Columbia Center for Disease Control warned people not to confuse iodide with iodine and told them not to take iodine solutions thinking they provide any protection against radiation.

"Iodine solutions are not meant for ingestion and can cause severe burns to the digestive tract," the agency said in a statement.

Perry Kendall, the Canadian province's chief medical officer, believes most people will heed warnings not to overreact, but acknowledges his office has received calls alleging the government is engaging in a cover-up.

(Additional reporting by Ross Kerber in Boston; Editing by Peter Cooney)

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Comments (4)
FlatBack4 wrote:
I find it shameful that those on the left coast are so hopeful of a meltdown and countless deaths in Japan just so they can move their anti-progress agenda forward.

Mar 17, 2011 5:19pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
michelbisson wrote:
I quote ‘….but acknowledges his office has received calls alleging the government is engaging in a cover-up.’
That is the level of distrust that is growing day by day the population around the world, including Canada, have about their government.
Until we learn and experience the benefits earned by honesty with our children, friends, spouses, clients, bosses, we have not yet upgraded our status from ’smart surviving animals’ to ‘humans’.

Mar 17, 2011 6:47pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
psubbu79 wrote:
Brutus in Julius Caesar said that The Romans were fickle-minded. I think modern day authors would say Americans are fickle-minded. Open your Physics and Chemistry textbooks and reason for yourself instead of dumping poison into your body

Mar 17, 2011 6:47pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
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