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Wednesday,
April 03, 2002

 



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Environment | Article published Wednesday, April 3, 2002
Iodide pill supported as nuclear safeguard
Ohio prepares for stockpiling

By TOM HENRY
BLADE STAFF WRITER


OAK HARBOR, Ohio - Ohio appears to have committed itself to stockpiling special thyroid pills for thousands of people who live within 10 miles of three FirstEnergy Corp. nuclear plants, including the Davis-Besse nuclear facility in Ottawa County.

The Ohio Department of Health has acknowledged there is "overwhelming support" for making potassium iodide pills available to the public free of charge, ending years of speculation about how state and local emergency workers would accommodate the general public in the event of a nuclear accident.

The decision will not be official until J. Nick Baird, state health department director, formally notifies the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission. That paperwork is expected to be filed in May, said Jay Carey, a state health department spokesman.

On Friday, state health officials completed the final draft of a nine-page policy that would be used as a guideline for initiating the program. That draft was presented for discussion Monday in Columbus at the quarterly meeting of a state panel called the Utility Radiological Safety Board, he said.

No formal action was taken. But the director is expected to proceed with his plan after it is reviewed later this month by Gov. Bob Taft. Local emergency agencies are being given until April 19 to comment on it, Mr. Carey said.

"The discussion has gone from should [potassium iodide] be distributed to how it should be distributed," he said, adding that the response from three recent public hearings was clearly in favor of the pills.

The pills could provide some extra peace of mind for 16,500 people who live within the immediate 10-mile evacuation zone around Davis-Besse, as well as thousands who live within 10 miles of the Perry nuclear plant east of Cleveland or the Beaver Valley nuclear complex in western Pennsylvania.

The evacuation zone for Beaver Valley affects the easternmost part of Ohio because it extends across the Ohio-Pennsylvania state line.

The debate is older than some of the nationís 103 nuclear plants.

Ohio began rethinking its position a few years ago - long before the corrosion problem at Davis-Besse was identified last month.

In 1997, the NRC encouraged states to participate and even offered to pick up initial costs. By the spring of 1999, though, it withdrew that offer because of costs.

Then, just before Christmas of 2000, the regulatory agency put the offer back on the table. It has acknowledged that interest in it has gained some momentum following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

The biggest question mark: Whether the pills would provide a false sense of security and impede an evacuation.

Scientists have agreed they could help people closest to nuclear plants avoid certain types of cancer by blocking the thyroid glandís uptake of radiation.

Most public officials donít doubt that now, but some - including those in Michigan - continue to express reservations about whether people would become more reluctant to leave their homes.

Details still need to be worked out about how the pills would be distributed in Ohio.

But, according to the draft policy, the state health department wants to make a two-day supply available to permanent residents who live within 10-mile evacuation zones, then stockpile the rest of the pills for people who would seek treatment at monitoring and decontamination centers during a crisis.

The pills have been stockpiled for years for emergency workers, health-care providers, and others, including prisoners and hospital patients, who could not be evacuated immediately.

Nearly as important as the events of Sept. 11 was the U.S. Food and Drug Administrationís recently issued guidance for the pills.

Among other things, it said there is little chance of experiencing dangerous side effects from the drug.

Alan Morris, president of a pharmaceutical company in New York called Anbex, told The Blade last night he expects final FDA instructions to simplify dosages for all age groups by telling consumers to split pills in half only for children less than a year old.

All others will be encouraged to take an adult dosage of one pill a day, he said.

Anbex is under contract by the NRC to produce all potassium iodide pills that the government is distributing to the general public.

It is being paid $1,068,000 to produce the first six million tablets - which comes to a cost of 17.8 cents per pill, Mr. Morris said.

The pills, per FDA direction, have a shelf-life of five years, Mr. Morris said.


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Kapturís Davis-Besse remarks incense Ottawa officials 04/03/2002

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