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Surgeon General Clarifies Comments On Potassium Iodide

There's been a run on potassium iodide pills on the U.S. West Coast as people fear they'll be exposed to radiation from the Fukushima nuclear complex. Potassium iodide helps protect the thyroid in case of radiation exposure. Jon Hamilton tells Morning Edition that experts find the medicine unnecessary; the damaged plant hasn't released sufficient radiation to harm most people in Japan. However, the crews working at the stricken plant are in danger.

The Union of Concerned Scientists says 'it's highly unlikely' people in the U.S. need the pills, and that available pills should first be given to people in Japan.

The reports help clarify remarks offered Tuesday by Surgeon General Dr. Regina Benjamin. While visiting the San Francisco Bay area, Benjamin was asked about emergency preparedness work in California; there are concerns about nuclear radiation spreading from Japan to the U.S.

Benjamin was videotaped speaking to an NBC reporter about disaster planning. She said Americans should always prepare for disasters, such as Hurricane Katrina, but was surprised to hear people were stocking up on potassium iodide. She said the purchases were 'a precaution'.

Benjamin appeared to be reacting to the question, not advocating a position. In a clarifying statement Wednesday, the Dept. of Health and Human Services noted:

She said it's always important to be prepared however she wouldn't recommend that anyone go out and purchase KI (potassium iodide) for themselves at this time. She further commented that it's important for residents who have concerns to listen to state and local health authorities.

In fact, Dr. Benjamin does not say that in the video.

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