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County board signs on to KI distribution plan

Despite worries that residents might misinterpret the precaution, Pierce County Board members voted to adopt a plan to distribute potassium iodide (KI) pills to people who live near the Prairie Island nuclear power plant.

Tuesday's vote adopts a Wisconsin Department of Health and Family Services plan to pre-distribute the non-prescription tablets to county residents who live within 10 miles of the plant. The KI tablets, which will be provided by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, are intended to block the thyroid gland's uptake of radioactive iodine and reduce the risk of thyroid cancers in the event of a severe nuclear accident.

Five years ago, the county board declined to join in distributing and stockpiling potassium iodide, insisting evacuation is the primary means to protect residents from exposure to radiation and the county couldn't distribute the KI tablets fast enough to do any good.

The state's new distribution plan calls for delivery of the tablets to local pharmacies in both Wisconsin and Minnesota. Coupons will be provided to households in the target area and those residents can claim and store their own KI tablets.

"The main goal is to get people out of there," said Supervisor John Kucinski, Town of River Falls, who still objected to distributing the tablets.

He said potassium iodide only protects the thyroid and has to be taken at the appropriate time.

"I think people who aren't familiar with radiation won't understand that," said Kucinski. He said he doesn't want people to think they can just take a pill and be safe from radiation contamination.

"I think (the distribution plan) is just political and doesn't have any guts to it," said Kucinski.

Providing the tablets doesn't hurt, responded Diamond Bluff Supervisor Jeff Holst, whose district is in the 10-mile area.

"If it's no more than a placebo, it will be that, and placebos tend to make people feel better," said Holst.

Even if the tablets provide only minor protection, they offer some protection and information about appropriate responses to a power plant accident will be distributed with the pills, said River Falls-area Supervisor Rich Purdy, who chairs the Board of Health.

A high rate of thyroid cancer was a major aftereffect of the 1986 nuclear accident in Chernobyl, noted Supervisor Ben Plunkett, River Falls.

"We thought it was a bloody panacea," said Supervisor Mike Larson, River Falls, who serves on the Emergency Management Committee.

"This is not a substitute for evacuation," said Larson. He pointed to the reluctance of many residents of New Orleans to leave their homes during Hurricane Katrina.

"If people don't think they should leave, they're not going to," said Larson.

"(Distribution of the tablets) can help with an organ that is often damaged or gives people a lot of trouble if they're exposed to radiation," said Supervisor Ron Lockwood, River Falls. He said the county should support and cooperate with the distribution plan.

The county board resolution was adopted, with only Kucinski and Jim Camery, Town of Clifton, voting no.

Now that the county board has signed on, the Wisconsin Department of Health and Family Services plans to start a public education plan in October, continuing through 2008. KI redemption coupons will be distributed to households, who may then pick up and store their own tablets. Distribution is expected to begin Jan. 1, 2008.

All risk counties will have separate stockpiles of KI for emergency workers. Schools and businesses within the 10-mile area will be provided with their own stocks of tablets.

Residents will be notified to take the tablets as part of emergency alert/emergency broadcast messages. The appropriate dose is two 65-miligram tablets for adults 18 and older, one tablet for children over three-years-old, half a tablet for children one month to three-years-old and a quarter tablet for younger infants.

According to information provided to the county board, 23 of the 43 states with nuclear plants have decided to accept the Nuclear Regulatory Commission's offer of free potassium iodide.