English's bill should be voted out of committee
Long before the threat to the nation's nuclear facilities was made frighteningly real by the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, Rep. Phil English, R-Pa., introduced a bill in Congress that would provide for stockpiling potassium iodide tablets in areas within a 50-mile radius of a nuclear power plant and called for a strategy to store and deliver such tablets to persons who may be affected by a disaster at such a plant. But English's bill has been bottled up in committee since last March. It's time for Rep. Steve LaTourette, R-Ohio, chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, to get H.R. 873 back on track.
English's bill was a good idea before. Now it has become an imperative.
Why? Because this week the Food and Drug Administration issued guidelines for the use of potassium iodide to reduce the risk of thyroid cancer in children and adults in emergencies involving the release of radioactive iodine into the environment. Radioactive iodine is a component of nuclear fallout. Potassium iodide works by preventing the body's absorption of the radioactive element.
FDA recommendations: The FDA document advises other federal agencies and state and local governments on safe and effective dosages of potassium iodide as an addition to other protective measures, such as evacuation, sheltering and assurance of uncontaminated food and milk for infants and children, who are most susceptible to radiation-induced thyroid cancer. The agency's new recommendations are derived from a review of the much more comprehensive and reliable data in studies conducted after the Chernobyl nuclear reactor accident in April 1986.
After the meltdown of the Chernobyl nuclear reactor in the now former Soviet Union, the distribution of potassium iodide was credited with lowering the death and disease toll in nearby Poland.
With the Perry Nuclear Power Plant 25 miles east of Cleveland in Lake County and the Beaver Valley Power Plant on the Ohio River at Shippingport, Pa., residents in this region have reason for concern.
The FDA makes it clear that doses of potassium iodide should continue until the risk of exposure has passed, but if it takes days to round up adequate supplies of the special salt the result could be catastrophic. Just look at the difficulty the federal government had in trying to obtain enough antibiotics to protect those who had been exposed to anthrax.
Nuclear power plant workers have access to the product which is available for purchase over the counter without a prescription. But few pharmacies routinely stock the product. English's measure would put potassium iodide where it could do the most good.