Statement from California’s Department of Public Health and
Emergency Management Agency on Risk of Radiation Exposure
March 15, 2011
SACRAMENTO – Today the interim director of the California Department of Public Health, Dr. Howard Backer, and acting secretary of the California Emergency Management Agency, Mike Dayton, issued the following statement emphasizing Californians’ safety from radiation exposure and the risks of taking potassium iodide as a precautionary measure.
“The safety of all Californians is our highest priority, and we are in constant contact with the federal agencies responsible for monitoring radiation levels across the West Coast.
We want to emphasize that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services have all stated that there is no risk expected to California or its residents as a result of the situation in Japan.
We are actively monitoring the situation in Japan and are ready to take all steps necessary to protect Californians should risks develop.
We urge Californians to not take potassium iodide as a precautionary measure. It is not necessary given the current circumstances in Japan, it can present a danger to people with allergies to iodine, shellfish or who have thyroid problems, and taken inappropriately it can have serious side effects including abnormal heart rhythms, nausea, vomiting, electrolyte abnormalities and bleeding.
Our thoughts are with the people of Japan at this tragic time.”
Californians with questions about radiation exposure can contact the California Department of Public Health’s Emergency Operations information line at 916 341-3947.
FAQs About Radiation
According to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), Japan’s nuclear emergency presents no danger to California. CDPH is working closely with our state and federal partners, including NRC, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the U.S. Department of Energy, FEMA Region IX, and the California Emergency Management Agency (CalEMA).
California has a plan of response for radiological emergencies if one were to arise. Plans include the Nuclear Radiological Emergency Program and the National Response Framework.
Frequently Asked Questions
Q. Is a plume of radiation coming to California?
A. At present, all data from state and federal sources show that harmful radiation won’t reach California. CDPH is monitoring the situation, working closely with our federal, state and local partners.
Q. How much radiation will reach California?
A. No harmful radiation. Distance, time, and weather is in our favor. Japan is 5000 miles from California. Radiation levels lessen with distance and we don’t expect much above the amounts we see everyday. Precipitation removes radiation from the atmosphere.
Q. What’s everyday level of radiation we receive?
A. The typical North American exposure from natural background radiation is 2.0 millirem per day. A chest x-ray would expose an individual to 10 mrem. Radiation from Japan is expected to be thousands of times less than daily background radiation from natural and man-made sources—like the sun, air, soil, medical imaging, and life-saving therapies.
Q. What’s a millirem?
A. A millirem is a dose of ionizing radiation. The average American is exposed to approximately 620 millirems a year of radiation each year from natural and medical sources.
Q. Is there a danger of radiation from the Japanese nuclear incident making it to the United States?
A. Given the thousands of miles between the two countries, Hawaii, Alaska, the U.S. Territories and the U.S., the West Coast is not expected to experience any harmful levels of radioactivity. In response to nuclear emergencies, CDPH works with state and federal agencies to monitor radioactive releases and predict their paths.
Q. What is the state and federal government doing to monitor radiation?
A. CDPH Radiologic Health Branch maintains eight air monitoring stations throughout California. They are located in Eureka (2 units), Richmond, Livermore, Avila Beach, San Luis Obispo, Los Angeles and San Diego. CDPH has increased surveillance from once a week to every 48 hours. U.S. EPA operates a network of air monitors in California and has recently enhanced its capability in response to the Japan nuclear crisis. U.S. EPA has real time monitoring capability.
Q. Does California have a plan in place to respond to a radiological emergency?
A. CDPH has a plan for response to radiological emergencies, called the Nuclear Emergency Response Plan. This plan is exercised regularly with local and federal partners in the communities around our nuclear power plants.
Q. Does California stockpile supplies for such an emergency?
A. California does stockpile emergency supplies, including potassium iodide (KI) tablets. Potassium iodide tablets are not recommended at this time, and can cause significant side effects in people with allergies to iodine, shellfish or who have thyroid problems. Potassium iodide tablets should not be taken unless directed by authorities.
Q. Why are potassium iodide tablets used during emergencies involving radiation exposure?
A. Potassium iodide (KI) tablets may be recommended to individuals who are at risk for radiation exposure or have been exposed to excessive radiation to block the body’s absorption of radioactive iodine. Using KI when inappropriate could have rare but serious side effects such as abnormal heart rhythms, nausea, vomiting, electrolyte abnormalities and bleeding.
Q. Should I be taking potassium iodide to protect myself?
A. No. Potassium iodide (KI) tablets are not recommended at this time, and can present a danger to people with allergies to iodine, shellfish or who have thyroid problems.
- Q. Should I purchase potassium iodide as a precaution?
A. No. KI is only appropriate within close proximity to a nuclear event. Using KI when inappropriate could have potential serious side effects such as abnormal heart rhythms, nausea, vomiting, electrolyte abnormalities and bleeding.
- Q. Are there any protective measures I should currently take?
A. The best thing anyone can do is to stay informed. CDPH and other state and federal partners are monitoring the situation. If circumstances change, officials will alert the public to appropriate precautionary procedures. But, again, at this time, the NRC reports Japan’s nuclear emergency presents no danger to California.
While California is not at risk of significant radiation from Japan, we are at risk of major earthquakes. People who live in earthquake prone regions should stock emergency supplies of food, water, and other emergency supplies to be self sufficient for at least 3-5 days.