Magazine article Science News

Tincture of Iodine Keeps Radiation Away

Magazine article Science News

Tincture of Iodine Keeps Radiation Away

Article excerpt

Researchers at Pennsylvania State University's medical center in Hershey have stumbled onto what may be an effective home remedy to prevent serious radioactive contamination of the thyroid gland from iodine-131 emitted in the event of a major nuclear plant mishap. They swab the skin with a tincture of iodine.

Of the many radioactive gases that can be emitted during a nuclear plant release, iodine-131 causes special concern. Because iodine is readily accumulated in the thyroid, exposure to radioactive iodine can lead to serious, concentrated doses in the small metabolism-regulating gland. For years scientists have considered prescribing community-wide ingestion of potassium iodide in regions downwind of a serious nuclear accident to block the thyroid's uptake of radioactive iodine.

The body can't distinguish between radioactive iodine and the iodine in the drug, so taking potassium iodide would fulfill the thyroid's need for the element. Should any radioactive iodine be inhaled or ingested later, studies show most of it would be excreted. This would prevent the radioactive damage -- including thyroid cancer--it might otherwise have initiated.

But potassium iodide is prescription drug, and its post-accident distribution could exacerbate the traffic tie-ups and panic that nuclear crises would inevitably foster. In fact, says Kenneth Miller, director of health physics at the Hershey Medical Center, his team's decision to look at skin absorption of household iodine sources resulted from discussions over how they would have tried to manage potassium iodide's distribution in the immediate hours after the neighboring Three Mile Island accident in 1979. …

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