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No current U.S. health risks from radiation say experts

Kathleen Blanchard's picture

Fears of radiation exposure from Japan's nuclear complex has prompted a statement from the American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists (AACE), the American Thyroid Association (ATA), The Endocrine Society and the Society of Nuclear Medicine (SNM). The experts discourage hoarding or ingesting potassium iodide or K1 tablets. They note there is no current risk to general or thyroid health in the U.S. from radiation exposure.

Thyroid heath risks from radiation explained

According to experts, the risk of developing thyroid nodules and cancer occurs years after exposure to radioactive iodine including iodine-131 that is the primary concern from Americans, especially on the West Coast.

High levels of radioactive iodine absorbed by the thyroid gland can be blocked by potassium iodide or K1, but should not be taken because there is no radiation emergency in the United States.

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According to the scientists, K1 should only be taken as directed by physicians or public health authorities when warranted. Levels of radiation in the United States currently pose no risks to thyroid health, though "some" levels have been detected.

The scientists explain, "During the Chernobyl nuclear plant accident in 1986, people in the surrounding region were exposed to radioactive iodine principally from intake of food and milk from contaminated farmlands. As demonstrated by the Chernobyl experience, pregnant women, fetuses, infants and children are at the highest risk for developing thyroid
cancer whereas adults over age 20 are at negligible risk."

The researchers plan to issue guidance as it becomes necessary and say they are monitoring the potential risks to thyroid health from radiation in the United States.

K1 tablets can be taken by individuals at higher risk for thyroid cancer from radiation exposure, but is discouraged for use unless there is a clear risk. Potassium iodide can cause allergy and skin reactions, and alter thyroid function. If and when there is a risk to health from radiation exposure, the scientists say K1 should only be taken for one to two weeks.

Currently, radiation levels detected in the U.S. do not pose health risks. The researchers explain the greatest risk to health is among individuals closest to the radiation source. The nuclear accident in Japan currently poses no thyroid or general risks to the U.S. population, according to the joint statement from the American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists, the American Thyroid Association and The Endocrine Society, and the Society of Nuclear Medicine.

Updated: 6/25/2014