Ignorance is a bigger threat

Two Japanese workers were hospitalized Thursday for radiation exposure after contaminated water seeped into their boots during repair efforts at the damaged Fukushima Daiichi nuclear facility.

The workers were exposed to 170 to 180 millisieverts of radiation while laying electrical cables in

the basement of the building housing reactor No. 3. The average American, by comparison, is exposed 6.2 millisieverts of radiation per year from natural sources, according to the EPA, the Los Angeles Times reported.

Meanwhile, Japanese citizens are buying all the bottled water they can, after the government warned that infants should not consume tap water because elevated levels of radioactive iodine were detected at a water treatment plant. (Reassuringly, countries, corporations and relief agencies are rushing water and other drinks to the country, along with other aid.)

Many Americans are acting as if they are the ones at risk from radiation during this crisis in Japan. In little towns and big cities, people are scrambling to purchase potassium iodide tablets, despite warnings from local, state and federal health and government officials that there is no reason to do so. No doubt, with a certain segment of the population, such warnings will always have the opposite effect.

(Remember, everyone wanted the H1N1 flu vaccine when it was unavailable; the government was accused of hoarding it. When it became available, the government was accused of trying to force it on people.)

Still, it bears repeating that Americans are exposed to more doses of radiation daily that are 100,000 times higher than levels coming from Japan, according to the EPA. We are exposed to radiation from natural sources, like rocks and the sun, and from man-made sources, such as medical imaging and plane travel. The radiation levels from Japan are 100,000 times lower than what a person would get taking a round-trip international flight.

People in the affected area of Japan should take the medication, which works only to protect the thyroid. Others taking it for no reason risk harming their thyroid gland.

None of this matters, however, as doctors continue to be inundated with inquiries, and pharmacies have run out of the non-prescription drug. The three approved manufacturers are out of stock. Not to worry, however. Scammers on the Internet are more than happy to supply panicked people with something, although it’s likely not potassium iodide. What’s riskier than taking an unneeded medication? Taking an unknown unneeded medication.

It speaks to the need for sound science education when people, who have little to no risk from the radiation, clamor to take a medication that might harm their health.

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