The thought of radiation exposure is the stuff nightmares, and justifiably so. With the release of radiation from the disaster-stricken nuclear complex in Japan, people the globe over have increased fear that a potential plume of radioactivity may find them–especially those on the U.S. west coast. To help Americans understand their radiation-related health risks, the American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists (AACE), the American Thyroid Association (ATA), The Endocrine Society and the Society of Nuclear Medicine (SNM) issued a joint statement of the radiation risks to health.
The statement describes that the main component to be concerned about is radioactive iodine including iodine-131.This presents a special risk to health because exposure of the thyroid to high levels may lead to development of thyroid nodules and thyroid cancer years later.
As we have been hearing in the news, radioactive iodine uptake to the thyroid can be blocked by taking potassium iodide (KI) pills. But the joint statement cautions that “KI should not be taken unless there is a clear risk of exposure to high levels of radioactive iodine. While some radiation may be detected in the United States as a result of the nuclear reactor accident in Japan, current estimates indicate radiation levels will not be harmful to the thyroid gland or general health.” If radiation levels were to rise to significant levels, KI should only be taken as directed by physicians or public health authorities until the risk for significant exposure dissipates.
The statement discourages individuals needlessly purchasing or hoarding of KI in the United States. Since there is not a radiation emergency in the United States or its territories, the statement does not support the ingestion of KI prophylaxis at this time. KI can cause allergic reactions, skin rashes, salivary gland inflammation, hyperthyroidism or hypothyroidism in a small percentage of people.
AACE, ATA, The Endocrine Society and SNM will continue to monitor potential risks to health from this accident and will issue amended advisories as warranted.