Article published Jul 6, 2007
Keep KI pills salted away, officials say
The potassium iodide pills, nearly outdated, guard against radiation-caused cancer.

The absence of nuclear plant leaks or terrorist "dirty bomb" strikes in our region for the past five years means that anti-radiation poisoning pills first handed out to Brunswick and New Hanover residents back in 2002 are about to go out of date.

What should people do with the outdated pills, and who is going to replace them?

Those questions are making the rounds at the Brunswick County Health Department, said Fred Michael, deputy county health director. Michael said several people who got potassium iodide pills from the department have noted that the expiration date on the pills' packaging is August 2007.

"The shelf life of the pills runs out in August. But the makeup of KI is mostly salt, so we don't think the pills will deteriorate," Michael said Thursday. "What we advise is for people to keep the pills until new ones are issued."

The potassium iodide pills are known as KI pills because K is the chemical symbol for potassium and I is the symbol for iodine. Potassium iodide pills reduce chances of thyroid cancer from radiation. Because of concerns about terrorism after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, the federal government offered the states batches of pills for people who live within 10 miles of nuclear plants.

At the time of the distribution in early 2002, 16,294 residents in Southport, Boiling Spring Lakes, Caswell Beach, Oak Island and Bald Head Island received two-pill allotments of KI for personal use in the event of a nuclear attack or radiation-releasing accident at Progress Energy's Brunswick Nuclear Plant just north of Southport, Michael said.

Although barely outside the 10-mile nuclear plant halo, St. James residents requested and received the pills too, Michael said.

The pills were also distributed in New Hanover County to residents of Pleasure Island living within 10 miles of the nuclear plant.
Michael said the state health department is in charge of obtaining new KI pills from the federal government, adding that Health Director Don Yousey has been in touch with Dr. Julie Casani, state public health preparedness coordinator, to begin the process of getting new shipments of potassium iodide.

Debbie Crane, director of state health department public affairs, said new KI pills are on order with the federal government's Nuclear Regulatory Commission to replace the soon-to-be-outdated medication.

"We're in the process of getting a complete resupply," she said, repeating Michael's admonition that because of the mostly salt-based content of the KI pills, little if any degradation of effectiveness occurs over time.

Crane did not give a timetable for the pills' replacement but conceded it likely would be after the KI pills now in hand have gone past the expiration date.

In the meantime, the federal Food and Drug Administration has approved potassium iodide as an over-the-counter medication. Anyone wary of taking possibly outdated pills could buy their own replacement pills, Michael said.

Paul Jefferson 538-2955