As Japan's Fukushima Daiichi reactor toes the edge of a full-scale meltdown, Seattleites 6,000 miles away are taking no chances in girding their bodies against a radioactive onslaught. Folks here aren't yet retreating to fallout shelters--that's too heartland-conservative. Rather, they're combating the issue in a decidedly Seattle way--through health supplements. In fact, local health stores tell Seattle Weekly that potassium iodine tablets, drops, and natural iodine-containing products like seaweed (which are said to offer marginal protections against radiation) are either completely sold out or on the verge of being so.
"It's definitely the radiation thing," says Perea. "Potassium iodide is what everyone's looking for. Our own distributor--NOW Foods--is rationing the products. They're only giving 45 bottles to each store. People are really freaking out."
Elsewhere, managers at The Grainery on First Avenue South and at Pike Place Natural Foods on Pike Place have each confirmed a shortage of all things iodine.
But even if radiation from Japan could find its way across the Pacific Ocean and into the bodies of local Washingtonians (nearly impossible), there are questions as to how effective iodine, potassium iodide, and foods like kelp can be in protecting against it--not to mention the fact that too much iodine is toxic.
Timothy Church at the Washington Department of Health tells Seattle Weekly that the best defense against radiation isn't anything that can be eaten, but good old-fashioned evacuation. That said, he sees no need for anyone in the state to be worried about Japanese radiation. "Our radiation experts do not foresee any scenario that KI [potassium iodide] would be needed here," he writes.
The DOH also has a Q&A section on its website that deals specifically with the events in Japan and whether folks here should be constructing lead body armor or not.
How much radioactivity do you expect to come to Washington from Japan's reactors?
We don't expect significant levels of radioactivity in our state, and there's no health risk. Japan is thousands of miles from our state, and if radioactivity from the reactors there is released it would be thinned-out by the winds before it could reach us. We could see a very small increase in radiation levels--well below levels that would be a health concern.
But for those folks still determined to load up their bodies with iodine, Perea at Super Supplements has some advice.
"First, don't take iodine for more than 10 days because it's toxic at that point," she says. "If a store is out, you can also get iodine from Asian foods with seaweed and kelp in it. But really, just stop freaking out."