Potassium Iodide Tablets, Table Salt See Soaring Demand, Price Gouging

Potassium iodide shortages and price gouging are an effect of huge sudden demand spurred by Japanese nuclear dangersMillions of Americans live near 104 nuclear power plants operating in 31 states, but MSNBC reports only 22 of those states have amassed potassium iodide tablets, or "K1," "to be taken by residents within 10 miles of power plants in an emergency." Watching the nuclear crisis unfold in Fukushima, Japan, consumers worldwide have begun taking preparedness into their own hands.

As a result, the price of the previously inexpensive pills has soared dramatically, and some vendors put a premium on dwindling supplies. Troy Jones, owner of North Carolina-based website NukePillstold MSNBC he sold out of 50,000 doses of the pills in two days and has been receiving orders every 30 seconds. He currently has a backlog of more than 3,000 orders.Mark Quick, vice president of corporate development for Recipharm AB, manufacturers of Thyro-Safe tablets, reported in the same article, "We've shipped more private orders in the last three days than we have in the last three years." And Alan Morris, president of Williamsburg, Va.,-based, Anbex Inc. manufacturing iOSAT pills told MSNBC, "The world seems to be utterly terrified of what's going on in Japan ... This is the first time in 30 years that we've been out of stock." The company expects to have more product available by April 18, 2011.

Potassium iodide is believed to prevent the sensitive thyroid gland from absorbing radioactive iodine, reducing the likelihood of radiation sickness and thyroid cancer, but its powers are controversial. In fact, K1 is considered potentially hazardous for those with thyroid disorders or allergies to shellfish. The thyroid glands of children, teens, infants and growing fetuses are reported to be most at risk of injury from radioactive iodine. Steve Kerekes, a spokesman for the Nuclear Energy Institute, told MSNBC, "Our view quite strongly is that the science doesn't merit K1 distribution beyond 10 miles [around a nuclear power plant]." Instead, Kerekes believes nuclear neighbors should simply evacuate. Better keep the car gassed up.

Americans don't seem to find this reassuring. On Amazon, prices for iOSAT in 14 tablet packages range from $37.50 at privately owned emergency preparedness company, Homeland Safety, LLC to $268.89 at Plexsupply Office Warehouse. Wonder who will sell out first?

K1, however, is not the only item in high demand. In China and Hong Kong, the Wall Street Journal reports that desperate consumers are ransacking grocery stores to buy Iodized table salt, similar to K1 in chemical makeup, in hopes of avoiding repercussions from Japan's nuclear crisis. The Chinese mobs stem from the widespread fear that radiation from the Fukushima Daiichi complex will contaminate air, water and food sources.

On its website, Homeland Safety explains that although Iodized table salt also contains iodine, it dos not contain enough iodine to block radioactive iodine from entering the thyroid gland. The company reports, "you should not use table salt as a substitute for K1".

In addition, the company warns, potassium iodide tablets are not a magic bullet. "Knowing what K1 cannot do is also important," the site advises. "K1 cannot prevent radioactive iodine from entering the body. K1 can protect only the thyroid from radioactive iodine, not other parts of the body. K1 cannot reverse the health effects caused by radioactive iodine once damage to the thyroid has occurred. K1 cannot protect the body from radioactive elements other than radioactive iodine."

Still, Homeland Safety recommends that if public health officials or emergency response crews tell the public to take K1 following a radiologic or nuclear event, "the benefits of taking this drug outweigh the risks. This is true for all age groups ... Some general side effects caused by K1 may include intestinal upset, allergic reactions (possibly severe), rashes, inflammation of the salivary glands."

The site warns that infants less than one month old, "who receive more than one dose of K1 are at particular risk for developing ... hypothyroidism ... Infants who receive K1 should have their thyroid hormone levels checked and monitored by a doctor."

Last Tuesday, Dori Salcido, spokeswoman for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, said the American government will review "every aspect" of how the Japanese responded to the multiple catastrophes.

"Policy options relating to KI distribution will be among the issues studied," she wrote.

In the meantime, it's a dramatic reminder to stay on top of first aid supplies, emergency kits and our personal policy in regard to potassium iodide.

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