Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Some Good Advice

This morning I awoke wishing I had a Geiger counter. Thomas Hartmann had just explained that if the spent fuel pools at Fukushima Daiichi were to overheat and start boiling, huge quantities of radioactive vapor would be released into the air. Prevailing winds are headed east… toward the west coast. Seattle. San Francisco. Coos Bay. The Aleutian Islands. I also learned, via the local news on KPTK, that people were gobbling up kelp and potassium iodide tablets. The health food stores had run out. Everyone is freaked out by a giant radiation cloud drifting over the northwest.

Well, I’m freaked out, too. Freaking out is something I do well. It rarely solves anything, but the drama fills vacuums of churning, futile, fatalistic worry, fosters an illusion of having a modicum amount of control over my life, and provokes rants and soliloquies of gargantuan magnitude. A full 9.0 on the Richter Scale of my emotional life. Particularly invisible things; things like radiation poisoning, and the invisible hand of capitalism.

So how effective are kelp and potassium iodide at protecting the human body from radiation poisoning? Should I been down at the shores of Puget Sound grabbing up handfuls of kelp to make kelp soup? Kelp enchiladas? Kelp à la parisienne with chopped leeks and a sprig of thyme?

Should we be loading the car up and heading east? Should we be putting together a bucket list? Heading to Cle Elum or Wenatchee to load up on as yet undepleted supplies of iodide tablets?

Too much iodine is also toxic, so that not may be an ideal solution.

Timothy Church at the Washington Department of Health says that the best defense against radiation isn’t anything that can be eaten, but good old-fashioned evacuation. So far as I know, there has not been a single mention of evacuation here in Seattle. But it’s still early. Last I heard (via CNN) is that Japanese helicopters would be dropping cold water on the spent fuel pools as a strategy of last resort. That did not sound reassuring. So while an evacuation plan at this stage still sounds extreme, it is not something to dismiss as something that happens to other people on TV.

I have the queasy feeling Roberta, Toby, and I may be spending weeks in a high school gymnasium somewhere, sleeping on cots with a minimal amount of clothing, while Red Cross officials scurry about. But where, exactly, would that be? How far east? At what point would a radiation cloud dissipate into a negligibly toxic vapor? Idaho? Montana? Minnesota? New York?

Sometimes thoughts just race around in the head like greyhounds. Nothing like a mode of action takes form. An invisible parabolic antenna grows out of my head and I wait to hear whatever advice might be circulating in the atmosphere.

So far, the best advice has come from manager Aryn Perea at Super Supplements. "First, don't take iodine for more than 10 days because it's toxic at that point," she says. "If a store is out, you can also get iodine from Asian foods with seaweed and kelp in it. But really, just stop freaking out."


Steven Fama said...
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Steven Fama said...
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Steven Fama said...

John! [I have twice now (see deleted comments above) screwed up the posting of this comment, with its link, sorry about that.]

You are okay. There is NO risk whatsoever to anyone in Seattle, here in San Francisco, or anywhere on the west coast of USA. Iodide (not "iodine") is not necessary at all. Basically, the distance between mainland USA and any radiation source -- is HUGE.

On this matter I consider extremely reliable public health experts, well-experienced, university-affiliated scientists, and top regulatory officials who previously have not hesitated to sound the alarm when necessary (click here to read what they say).

To me, talk show hosts -- whose primary goal is to get listeners to keep listening so their company can make money -- are entirely unreliable.

Of course, those areas in Japan that have been and may be exposed to radiation are very concerning. But you, me, and the rest of us here in USA are thousands of miles away.

John Olson said...

Thank you, Steve, for that SF Gate article counteracting radiation panic. Someone else also sent a story about overblown radiation fears. Roberta came up with her own antidote: chocolate cake. With no potassium iodine. Er, iodide.