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Angelenos seek unneeded radiation protection

March 15, 2011 12:00:00 AM PDT
Fears of possible exposure to radiation in Japan are having a ripple effect in Southern California. A lot of people here are hitting grocery stores and pharmacies looking for anything they feel can protect them if the radiation were to spread, something authorities say is still remote.

The U.S. government isn't even recommending that Americans who are in Tokyo right now leave Japan because of radiation concerns. Yet there are quite a few people in California who are concerned enough about radiation that they are buying anti-radiation pills and radiation detectors.

In fact, one woman who works in customer service at the Whole Foods store in Glendale said people are calling like crazy to see if they have any anti-radiation pills left.

Three explosions at a nuclear power plant have fears of radiation exposure in Japan rapidly rising.

More U.S. military crews were exposed to radiation Tuesday in Japan. The Navy is giving them anti-radiation pills.

And now many people along the West Coast are wondering if they should be concerned about radiation here.

"If you're near a nuclear plant and there is radiation exposed, you have to be careful and there are certain procedures you have to take. I don't think we're at that point in California," said Calif. Gov. Jerry Brown.

"The problem, whenever you talk about radiation, everybody gets scared," said Dr. Johnathan Fielding, the director of Los Angeles County Dept. of Public Health. "What's really important is that people be calm about this and listen to the folks that are actually involved. And it's hard when you see these pictures in Japan, right around those reactors it is of concern. But we're 4,000 miles of open ocean away."

Still, some people here are concerned. Many grocery stores and drug stores from Northern California to Southern California have sold out of potassium iodide, which protects the thyroid from radiation.

"I would not recommend that people buy potassium iodide and certainly not that they take potassium iodide," said Fielding. "There is no reason and there are good reasons not to take it. It can cause allergic reactions, intestinal upset, salary gland problems."

With the pills tough to find in stores right now, people are turning to Amazon.com and EBay to find potassium iodide. They are also looking for Geiger counters. Devices which measure radiation, but can cost hundreds of dollars.

"People want to protect themselves, but individuals having Geiger counters is not going to be helpful," said Fielding. "I understand the impulse but I think it's sometimes important to resist it."

"I definitely think they're being a little crazy about it," said L.A. resident Laura Applebaum. "I mean, I understand what's going on over there is very serious, but we're in Los Angeles. I mean, I can't even count how far that is, it's ridiculous."

Regarding the U.S. military members who were exposed to radiation in Japan, one expert said is at a very small level. In fact he said it's at such a small level it's even less than you would get from a chest X-ray or from flying in an airplane across the country. So he says there's certainly no danger here in California right now.

The California Department of Public Health has opened a hotline to answer questions for people who have concerns about radiation.

They can be reached at (916) 341-3947. Lines are open 24 hours a day, seven days a week and are in English and Spanish.