Clallam County Health Officer Thomas Locke from the Clallam County Department of Health and Human Services has released a statement on the possibility of radiation from Japan reaching the Olympic Peninsula.
Thomas Locke, MD, MPH
Clallam County Health Officer
March 16, 2011
Port Angeles We have all been touched by magnitude of damage and human suffering caused by the catastrophic earthquake and tsunami that struck Northeastern Japan last week. It is especially sobering when we realized that the Olympic Peninsula is an area of the world at risk for similar earthquakes and whose coastal communities are vulnerable to devastating tsunamis. We can imagine losing family members and friends, and we can picture being isolated for days, without power, food or water.
Public health agencies at a local, state, and national level are closely monitoring the situation at Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Station. Japan is facing a very serious emergency as they struggle to cool several heavily damaged nuclear reactor cores and prevent additional releases of radioactive material in the immediate vicinity of the plants. There is widespread agreement by U.S. public health experts that there is no current or potential radiation hazard to the mainland United States, including the Olympic Peninsula, even in the event of a catastrophic meltdown of the Japanese reactors.
Comparisons have been made with the 1986 Chernobyl accident which spread radiation over a wide area. These comparisons are inaccurate and misleading. The Chernobyl accident involved a runaway reactor that exploded and burned, sending massive amounts of radioactive materials into the upper atmosphere. The radiation that has been released in Japan is of a much smaller amount and was not at a high enough altitude to travel in the jet stream to the U.S.
That said, there are a number of agencies continuously assessing the situation as it evolves, regularly measuring atmospheric conditions, and monitoring for dispersal of radioactive materials. Disasters often surprise us with their impacts, and it pays to stay alert and prepared, even when the potential impact seems minimal.
As Health Officer for Clallam County, I want to reassure you that the best available information indicates that there is currently no risk of harmful radiation exposure to residents of the continental U.S. as a result of the damaged Japanese nuclear reactors. Unless there are entirely new and unforeseeable developments in Japan, no future human health risk is anticipated.
You may be hearing about taking potassium iodide or Prussian blue to protect you from possible radiation sickness. The Washington State Department of Health (DOH) and Centers for Disease Control (CDC) strongly recommend against this.
Potassium iodide is available as an over-the-counter drug. It has the potential for significant side effects, and can be harmful for people with certain medical conditions. Its benefits do not outweigh its risks unless you have acute exposure to significant amounts of radioactive iodine in a situation where evacuation is not possible.
Prussian blue is available by prescription only. You SHOULD NOT consume Prussian blue artist’s dye or paint pigments. This type of Prussian blue is not designed to treat radioactive contamination.
If a radiation risk were to occur, local health departments would have access to both substances from the Strategic National Stockpile and would use our emergency procedures to make it available to our community.
Washington’s DOH serves as the state’s expert agency in matters of radiation affecting public health. DOH is partnering with Federal agencies, the International Atomic Commission, other western state DOH’s and Canadian agencies to monitor the situation in Japan. They are collecting air, crop and other samples 24/7 throughout the West Coast to ensure an early warning should the situation change.
As part of our job to protect your health in the event of any natural disaster or man-made emergency, we have plans in place to handle many different types of emergency. We partner with other local and state agencies so that together, we can prevent harm where possible, and when harm is unavoidable, to contain it and limit its damage to you and your family. As part of this work, we are part of a 24/7 public health communication system that will inform us promptly if there are any increased risks from the events in Japan. We will then activate our own emergency communication processes to promptly inform the public in Clallam County.
We are fortunate that the tsunami risk from last week’s earthquake has passed and there is no significant risk of radiation reaching the continental U.S. We are in no way immune from a similar disaster occurring in Washington State. Accordingly, we strongly recommend that every family have a personal disaster plan in place.
An excellent guide can be found at http://seattletimes.nwsource.com/news/local/links/disaster/prepare.pdf. This handy check list was published by the Seattle Times and will guide you through all the things you need to do to be as safe and healthy as possible after a disaster, until help arrives. Share it with your neighbors – and collaborate on how you could support one another. A safe community is a resilient community.
For additional information, we recommend that you visit the DOH website at the link below. They are our most valuable and credible information source on this situation, and they update their website information around the clock. They have a helpful Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) link that can answer many of your questions.
Washington State Department of Health: http://www.doh.wa.gov/Topics/japan2011.htm/