Berkeley Residents Panicking Over Almost Non-Existent Radiation

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The Daily has an article (not that I can read the whole thing in my iPad-less state!) about irritating Berkeley, Calif. residents being irrationally afraid of radiation from the nuclear crisis in Japan. They are flocking to the area's health food vitamin apothecary-places to buy potassium iodide, which protects against thyroid cancer resulting from exposure to radioactive iodine. This, despite the fact that no elevated radiation levels have been detected in California.

People don't trust the government in Berkeley, though, so potassium iodide and grim apocalyptic pronouncements it is! And impromptu evacuations: The Daily talked to an apothecary owner whose first customer that day had already loaded up the car and was ready to get his family the hell out of the pure, as of yet un-radiated air of Berkeley.

They also talked to a lady who doesn't seem to actually quite grasp what's going on:

"The EPA is failing us on air quality standards," Casby said. "My understanding is that prostate cancer is possibly caused by long-term exposure to low levels of radiation. We need to get away from nuclear power, and try other sources of energy."

I think she might actually mean thyroid cancer, which is one of the most common cancers linked to radiation exposure. Potassium iodide can help to prevent this, but is in fact sort of useless for adults; the adult thyroid gland is not very sensitive to the carcinogenic effects of radiation. It's children that are truly the concern vis-a-vis the thyroid gland and radiation exposure; Scientific American talked to a scientist who said that after Chernobyl, "Something on the order of 6,000 extra cases of thyroid cancer occurred among the children that had been exposed to increased radioactive iodine." (Note: potassium iodide will do nothing to prevent other types of cancer besides thyroid.)

Yes, it's a real risk if radiation levels are high. But that was Chernobyl, and this is the west coast of the United States, where the level of radiation has been measured and is "far too low to cause any harm to humans." The real concern is what's happening in Japan itself, hippies. Due diligence and safety are smart. Paranoia is not.

[rgray@villagevoice.com] [@_rosiegray]



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