On Friday, March 18, four major medical and scientific organizations*, including The Endocrine Society, and the Society of Nuclear Medicine, issued a joint public statement concerning the real risks from the recent, ongoing nuclear crisis in Japan.
Avoiding rekindling public confusion over sieverts and millisieverts, the statement does not address questions of total dose/exposure or the rate of exposure (in respects to what is tolerable, and what is harmful); it focuses on what it sees as the main source concern.
“Current estimates indicate there will not be a hazardous level of radiation reaching the United States from this accident.” — official joint statement
According to the statement, the main health concern regarding radiation exposure is from contact with Iodine 131 (the radioactive isotope of the element Iodine). The statement explains: “Iodine is concentrated in the thyroid gland and exposure of the thyroid to high levels of radioactive iodine may lead to development of thyroid nodules and thyroid cancer years later.”
Citing the explosion at Chernobyl (1986) as a studied example, the experts note that exposure to Iodine 131 occurs primarily through consumption of agricultural products such as milk and vegetables.
While offering that “Radioiodine uptake by the thyroid can be blocked by taking potassium iodide (KI) pills…”, the joint statement does not advise doing so without “clear risk” as this can cause other health effects such as allergies, and hyperthyroidism in some people.
As to what the actual, “clear risks” are, the statement lays out its position clearly:
“Since radioactive iodine decays rapidly, current estimates indicate there will not be a hazardous level of radiation reaching the United States from this accident. When an exposure does warrant KI to be taken, it should be taken as directed by physicians or public health authorities until the risk for significant exposure to radioactive iodine dissipates, but probably for no more than 1-2 weeks. With radiation accidents, the greatest risk is to populations close to the radiation source. While some radiation may be detected in the United States and its territories in the Pacific as a result of this accident, current estimates indicate that radiation amounts will be little above baseline atmospheric levels and will not be harmful to the thyroid gland or general health. ” (underscoring mine)
The final paragraph, in an effort to allay some panic responses, advises against “needlessly purchasing or hoarding of K1 in the U.S…” (which could create a shortage if needed elsewhere), and strongly concludes:
“…there is not a radiation emergency in the United States or its territories, we do not support the ingestion of KI prophylaxis at this time. Our professional societies will continue to monitor potential risks to health from this accident and will issue amended advisories as warranted. “
For more information on this issue, please contact Stephanie Kutler, Director of Government and Public Affairs, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
* RADIATION RISKS TO HEALTH
A Joint Statement from the American Association of Clinical
Endocrinologists, the American Thyroid Association,The Endocrine Society, and the Society of Nuclear Medicine
March 18, 2011
Top Image: Boffy b under a CC – BY -SA 3.0 license