I’m going to start off with the caveat here that I am NOT a doctor. This post is most certainly NOT me giving medical advice either. I do have a Master’s in Public Health, where I studied bioterrorism, dirty bombs, epidemiology, and the like, but I DO NOT give out medical advice. Instead, what I’m going to do here is to take a look at what the government has to say about iodine and nuclear fallout.
by Aden Tate, contributing writer and author of The Faithful Prepper
There can be a lot of confusion when it comes to what to do post-nuclear attack. Odds are that you may have heard that taking potassium iodide can help, but maybe that’s the limit of your knowledge. How does it help? When do you take it? Who should take it? Let’s take a closer look…
The Dangers of Exposure to Nuclear Fallout
Immediately following a nuclear attack/accident there will be large amounts of radioactive material shot up into the sky. This material will be visible dirt and debris, and it is known as nuclear fallout. Nuclear fallout will eventually fall back down to the earth (from a height of several miles), irradiating the area where it is present. It can cause sickness and death to those who are exposed to it, and so it is absolutely vital that you avoid fallout as much as possible, particularly in the first few hours post-detonation, as this is when fallout is most dangerous (due to the higher levels of radiation).1
Exposure to fallout can result in acute radiation sickness, also known as ARS, and the symptoms can manifest themselves minutes to days after the initial exposure. So, sometimes you may not be 100% sure whether you’ve been poisoned by radiation or not.2
Related article: How to Protect Yourself and Your Family from Nuclear Fallout
The initial blast will shoot the radiation high enough into the atmosphere that, if you’ve not been incinerated by the fireball or liquefied by the percussive blast, you theoretically could have up to fifteen minutes before the fallout falls back to earth. That fifteen minutes could very well be enough time to take a few simple steps to stay safe.
Immediate steps to mitigate radioactive exposure should include:
- seeking out the basement or interior of a building (to protect yourself from most skin contact and inhalation dangers;
- removing your clothing and washing off the skin to get radioactive particles off of you;
- staying inside for at least 24 hours post-blast.1
However, if you can stay inside longer, by all means do so. Radioactive fallout decays very rapidly, but the longer that you can stay away from it, the better off you’ll be. By waiting 48 hours, the exposure rate would drop down to 1% for a hypothetical 10 Kt blast.3
The Role of Potassium Iodide (Iodine)
Potassium iodide – also known as KI – works by protecting the organ that is most vulnerable to radiation damage – the thyroid. The thyroid likes to absorb iodine, but it can’t differentiate between radioactive and stable iodine. As a result, it will readily absorb either. KI works by flooding the thyroid to the point that it can’t absorb anymore with stable iodine for 24 hours, so that the radioactive iodine won’t be absorbed instead.4
Here are a few options for buying and storing Potassium Iodide:
KI does NOT keep radioactive iodine from entering the body, CANNOT reverse damage to the thyroid that has already occurred, does NOT protect the body from other forms of radiation. Further, it does NOT protect any other part of the body other than the thyroid gland.4
It’s important to note that other sources of iodine, such as in food or vitamins, do NOT contain high enough levels of the salt in order to protect the thyroid against radiation poisoning.4 Using these as substitutes for proper KI can have deadly consequences.
When Should You Take KI?
There are a number of potentially grave health risks that are associated with KI consumption. Thus, it’s important that one does not ingest KI willy nilly. The CDC states that KI should only be taken when recommended to do so by public health or emergency management officials state that it is wise to do so.5 This helps one to further understand the importance of being properly prepared for disaster. Without having proper communications equipment available, you may not have any idea whether there was a nuclear blast within your vicinity or not.
Should the power suddenly go out in your region due to a blast hundreds of miles away, you may not know that there’s a fallout shower heading your way unless you have a proper working radio. Battery operated and hand crank radios will still function after a nuclear detonation according to ready.gov. Cellphones, internet, and TV will most likely not work.1 The ability to achieve proper intelligence is vital to survival. Information helps you to make better choices.
Side Effects and Adverse Health Effects of KI
It’s very easy to think “well, if a little is good, then a lot is better!”, but this is most certainly not the case with KI. There are potential adverse health effects to KI ingestion that one needs to be aware of. Taking too much KI can lead to severe injury, illness, or even death. Gastrointestinal upset, allergic responses, rashes, and salivary gland inflammation are all potential side effects, as are rare thyroid gland issues.4
If an infant ingests more than the recommended dosage of KI, they can end up developing hypothyroidism, which can lead to brain damage. Infants can also experience other problems with normal development as they grow.4
Considerations for Special Populations
During a nuclear disaster, babies in the womb, infants, young children, and people with low levels of iodine in their thyroids are going to be at the greatest risk of radiation-related thyroid damage. Infants in particular are at the highest risk of thyroid damage due to absorption of radioactive iodine.4 Considering that the young of any life form on the planet are most susceptible to harmful biological agents and environmental contaminants, this makes sense. The young are virtually always vulnerable.
As a result, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recommends that all children who are likely contaminated with radioactive iodine take KI UNLESS they have known allergies to KI. Young adults are less likely to experience the negative side effects of KI ingestion when compared to children and newborns, however.
All forms of radiation can cross the placenta, and so pregnant mothers who have been exposed to radioactive iodine are recommended to take a single dose of KI in order to protect both them and the baby that’s growing inside the womb. Likewise, breastfeeding mothers should only take a single dose if they believe that they have been contaminated.4
Adults who are over the age of 40 should NOT take KI unless directed to do so by emergency management or public health officials. That is an age group most likely to experience deleterious side effects from KI ingestion. They are also the age group that is least likely to suffer from radiation caused damage to their thyroid gland as well.4
Iodine Dosage Information
The following information is quoted directly from the CDC website.
According to the FDA, the following doses are appropriate to take after internal contamination with (or likely internal contamination with) radioactive iodine:
- Newborns from birth to 1 month of age should be given 16 mg (¼ of a 65 mg tablet or ¼ mL of solution). This dose is for both nursing and non-nursing newborn infants.
- Infants and children between 1 month and 3 years of age should take 32 mg (½ of a 65 mg tablet OR ½ mL of solution). This dose is for both nursing and non-nursing infants and children.
- Children between 3 and 18 years of age should take 65 mg (one 65 mg tablet OR 1 mL of solution). Children who are adult size (greater than or equal to 150 pounds) should take the full adult dose, regardless of their age.
- Adults should take 130 mg (one 130 mg tablet OR two 65 mg tablets OR two mL of solution).
- Women who are breastfeeding should take the adult dose of 130 mg.”4 The FDA has approved both tablet and liquid forms of KI to be taken orally. The tablets come in 130mg and 65mg doses, and have lines on them to make them easier to cut (for smaller doses). The liquid contains 65mg of KI per mL.4
How Long Does Iodine Store?
According to the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), the 130mg tablet that they distribute has a shelf life of seven years, while the 65mg tablet has a shelf life of six years. The liquid formulation has a shelf life of five years. However, the NRC also points out that KI is an inherently stable compound, and does NOT lose effectiveness over time. The point of the date is to adhere to regulations that mandate particular products have a listed shelf life in order to protect consumer safety.
Several studies over the past several years have shown that KI does not undergo any significant amount of chemical degradation with the course of time. Some older specimens did show a longer dissolution time, but it was noted that this could be overcome by crushing the tablets into a powder and mixing them in a liquid such as juice in order to speed up the absorption rate.6
Other Items to Consider
If you want to take your preparations for radioactive fallout further, consider adding the following items to your supplies:
Wrapping Iodine and Nuclear Fallout Up
When it comes to prepping, even if you don’t really believe that the risk of nuclear attack/accident is something to worry about, I don’t see why one would not invest a few dollars in potassium iodide tablets. Buy some here.
They’re inexpensive, relatively easy to find, and don’t take up much space. In the event that you ARE exposed to dangerous radiation, they very well could help save your life.