As we follow the tragic events unfolding in Japan, many of us–especially our patients in California–are wondering about the likelihood of radioactive material blowing across the Pacific Ocean and posing health risks here in the U.S. One of the most active topics of discussion is whether people should be taking or stockpiling potassium iodide tablets, which are being distributed in Japan to counteract the effects of radiation on the thyroid gland–but which can have harmful effects if taken inappropriately.
Right now the answers are clear: the situation in Japan–even in the worst-case scenario–is not expected to pose any health risks in the U.S. If you live in California (or elsewhere in North America) you don’t need to take potassium iodide, and you don’t need to purchase a supply for safekeeping. Public health departments across the U.S. maintain stockpiles of potassium iodide and will distribute it in the very unlikely event that it becomes necessary.
The most important thing you can do is to stay informed about the evolving situation. We will be sure to pass along any significant information, but in the meantime we recommend heeding the advice offered by the California Department of Health here: http://www.cdph.ca.gov/Pages/RadiationFAQS2011.aspx