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KI tablets coming to CK in case of nuclear event

The Chatham-Kent Public Health Unit is preparing to make potassium iodide tablets available in the unlikely case of a nuclear disaster.

The health unit has been planning the potassium iodide (KI) tablet program over the past few months and is preparing for the official launch to happen in November.

KI tablets are designed to be taken during a nuclear event in order to reduce the risk of thyroid disorders should people be exposed to radioactive material. According to Dan Drouillard, CK public health nurse, the tablets are most beneficial to people under the age of 40 but will be offered to any eligible resident who wishes to receive them.

“Taking a KI tablet or potassium iodide tablet will load your thyroid gland with stable iodine which is a very important element that we need to create some of our hormones,” Drouillard explained. “So it will prevent any radioactive iodine from being taken up by your thyroid gland and will help prevent the risk of thyroid cancer or other thyroid illnesses.”

KI tablets were distributed to Amherstburg residents in the spring of 2018 and then across Windsor-Essex shortly after. According to Drouillard, the distribution is a result of nuclear safety recommendations set forth by federal authorities. It’s recommended that people living within an 80 kilometre radius of nuclear power plants keep a supply of the tablets handy. Portions of Chatham-Kent are within 80 kilmoetres of three different nuclear power facilities in the United States: The Fermi 2 plant in Michigan, The Davis-Besse plant in Ohio, and The Perry Nuclear Power Plant, also in Ohio.

“I’m not sure originally what triggered it,” said Drouillard. “I know Amherstburg kind of started it off because they’re within the primary zone. Then it went to Windsor and then to us from there since we determined that we’re within that 80 kilometre radius for safety planning.”

Dan Drouillard gives an overview of the KI tablet program during CK Board of Health meeting on October 16, 2019 (Photo by Allanah Wills)

Dan Drouillard gives an overview of the KI tablet program during CK Board of Health meeting on October 16, 2019 (Photo by Allanah Wills)

Drouillard stressed that the implementation of the project is not an indication that a nuclear event is any more likely to occur than usual and the probability of one happening remains unlikely. According to Drouillard, the distribution of the tablets is strictly because of updated nuclear safety recommendations.

However, Drouillard said he knows the idea of a nuclear event can provoke fear in some people.

“Anytime you talk about nuclear power or nuclear anything to any degree, it provokes a certain amount of uncertainty in people. I just want to be clear that…we’re no more at risk today than we were yesterday or 10, 15 years ago,” he said. “It’s just an enhancement in our safety or precautionary practices.”

There are currently 4,696 addresses in Chatham-Kent that are located in the 80 kilometre zone and will be eligible to receive the tablets. The tablets are only to be taken when ordered to do so and will almost always be accompanied by other orders such as taking shelter.

When questioned about the possibility of overdoses and how safe it is for people to have the tablets on hand, Dr. David Colby, CK medical officer of health, said the tablets are very low risk.

“Both potassium and iodine are essential elements for the body,” Colby explained. “It really requires a massive dose or an injected dose or a sustained overdose over a period of time to make it likely that people are going to have any serious side effects. These are safe enough to distribute and keep in the medicine cabinet. It’s not something that is likely to cause any kind of problem.”

The Public Health Unit is aiming to launch the project campaign in November which is when media releases will go out along with additional information for residents. The campaign launch will coincide with people being able to order their tablets online or by telephone. If all goes as planned, the health unit with begin distributing the tablets in early December. Anyone who opts to get the tablets will receive a handbook with instructions on how to take them, when to take them and how to store them.

The distribution program will be an ongoing effort with annual communication and the option to order more tablets as needed or when the current tablets become expired.