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Monday, February 18, 2002

Little pill causes big fuss

State, county to sort out responsibility for program Feb. 27


Staff writer


PORT CLINTON -- KI.

Otherwise known as potassium iodide.

It's a small white pill that resembles an aspirin tablet that, in the event of a radiation release at Davis-Besse Nuclear Power Station, could help prevent illness.

And now it will be the source of a meeting held by the Ohio Department of Health at 1 p.m. Feb. 27 in the basement of the Ottawa County Courthouse.

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission last year decided to provide the pill to states for the purpose of mass distribution in areas around nuclear power plants.

The iodine in the pill invades the thyroid and fills it before any radioactive iodine -- which could be released from the plant -- makes it into the thyroid.

The NRC, however, recommends it only as a supplement to the far more crucial evacuation plan, noting the pill only works on one type of radiation that could be released, and that it is not a cure-all for radiation exposure.

Members of the ODH are now trying to decide whether or not to participate in the federal program.

Local emergency authorities, however, fear ODH officials have already made up their minds and will end up diverting the responsibility of distribution to the Ottawa County Emergency Management Agency and Department of Health.

County EMA Director Jim Greer told county commissioners Tuesday he recently participated in a conference call with local and state health officials and that was the tone of the call.

"Most everyone has the belief that ODH will recommend making KI available to the general public," Greer told them. "They will have the locals make it happen. We all have concerns about that."

Greer's concerns are not so much centered on the safety of the pill, which is a relatively small dosage of potassium iodide, but rather in the mass distribution of the pill in a tourist-populated county.

For instance, should the county EMA request 20,000 tablets, which would be the required amount for full time residents within the 10 mile emergency planning zone around Davis-Besse?

Or should it ask for 200,000, which is the amount of people who could travel through the Davis-Besse EPZ throughout the summer?

County commissioners were put off by the idea that the state health department wasn't going to offer much guidance with the program as well.

"They are the leaders, they are to be making the decision, not the locals," said commissioner Carl Koebel.

Currently, the pills are available to emergency workers, such as fire, police and EMS, those in the detention facilities, nursing homes and hospitals.

The pill is an over-the-counter drug and can be purchased at any drug store without a prescription, but it is rarely kept in stock because few people demand it.

Koebel also brought up the issue of the pill's shelf life. It lasts about five years, and the federal program -- so far -- only covers the initial purchase of the pills.

Therefore, in five years, the county could be responsible for replenishing the supply, at a cost of thousands of dollars.

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Each of these pills contain 130 mg of potassium iodide, the recommended adult dosage.

More info available on Web site

For more information on the potassium iodide pill, go to the Ottawa County Emergency Management Agency's new Web site at: http://www.ottawacountyema.org/

The site provides studies on the pill from the Food and Drug Administration and the World Health Organization. It also contains a draft report on the pill from the Ohio Department of Health.

Along with information about KI, the Web site features facts on safety in an emergency, dates for training sessions and contact information.