Pills available for people downwind from Diablo

County public health officials are offering free doses of the radiation-blocking drug potassium iodide to people who live and work downwind of Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant.

The pills, also known by their chemical name KI, are available at six locations. They are only to be taken at the direction of public health officials in the event of a radiation leak at Diablo Canyon.

The county has enough doses to cover hundreds of thousands of people, said Michelle Shoresman, spokeswoman for the county public health department. They will be available as long as supplies last, which should be a year or so.

“We should have enough for everyone in the county who wants it,” she said.

Potassium iodide is not a panacea for all exposure to radiation. However, it is effective in preventing the thyroid gland from absorbing radioactive iodide, a compound that would be plentiful in a radiation release, if the pills are taken within four hours of exposure. The 1986 Chernobyl nuclear accident in Ukraine led to an increase in thyroid cancer diagnoses.

Brochures containing a voucher for obtaining the pills were mailed to every home and business in the emergency planning zone surrounding the nuclear plant. The zone is a large swath of the county that stretches from Cayucos to the Nipomo Mesa and as far inland as San Luis Obispo and could possibly be downwind of the plant in the event of a radiation release.

Participation in the distribution is voluntary. The vouchers can be used to obtain supplies of potassium iodide to cover entire households and office workforces. Nearly 150,000 people live in the emergency planning zone.

This is the second time potassium iodide has been made available to the public. The first distribution occurred in 2003, in the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. The shelf life of those pills will expire at the end of the year.

“This is a follow-up to the old process so that people will have it in their homes in case they are told to use it,” Shoresman said.

Half of the new pills were supplied by the federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission and half by the state Office of Emergency Services. In all, the county has 20,000 boxes of KI pills with each box containing 20 child doses or 10 adult doses, said Ron Alsop, county emergency services coordinator.

For more information about the county’s potassium iodide program, call 788-2903.

Where to get potassium iodide tablets

Or county Public Health offices at: