By Briana Vannozzi
“I just heard about it and I would like to get more information about it,” said Phyllis Toledo a Waretown resident.
That seemed to be the general consensus after speaking with dozens of people living, working and shopping in the Lacey Township area. The Ocean County Health Department is distributing free potassium iodide tablets to anyone within a 10-mile radius of the Oyster Creek Nuclear power plant. And for those unfamiliar with the practice, the recent notifications have been unsettling.
Would John Bielick, a local resident, pick up the pills to have on hand? “I wasn’t even aware they were available or what they were for,” he said. “Apparently it’s for radiation? So sure I would, absolutely.”
Brian Lippai, a manager at the Ocean County Health Department, said, “Well the Health Department has been offering free potassium iodide pills, or KI tablets if you will, for many, many years now. But there is absolutely no imminent danger or imminent threat or any concern.”
A spokesperson for the county health department says it’s all part of a routine preparedness measure in the event there is a nuclear emergency, but not a direct response.
“This is a typical scenario that’s done around most nuclear power plants, because if in the event there is an accident or explosion it is radioactive iodine that gets released into the atmosphere,” said Chairman of Emergency Services at Hackensack Meridian Health Dr. Joseph Feldman.
Normal potassium prevents and protects the thyroid from absorbing the radioactive iodine. The health department says tablets from the last distribution are set to expire this March, so they want people to come in to their set clinics for a new set.
“They can come to the health department, we also offer them there or you can pick them up at our 175 Sunset Avenue location up in Toms River between business hours from 9 am to 4 p.m.,” said Lippai.
Oyster Creek is scheduled to shut down in Dec. 2019. It’s one of just four licensed power reactors in the state of New Jersey and it’s the oldest operating nuclear power plant in the country.
So we wondered, just how helpful a KI tablet would be in the event of an emergency?
“The potassium iodide pills are very effective if taken very early on. If they’re taken within one hour, it gives you about 90 percent protection. If you take them within six hours, its about 50 percent protection,” explained Feldman.
At the local nutrition shop, Lindsey Termini says her husband started stocking the vitamins a few years ago.
She said, “He was presented with someone who used to work at the power plant and that’s how he knew about it, and then they were asking him if he could start stocking the potassium iodide.”
“I’m sure it’s a good thing to have. As I said, I’ve been getting them for years and whenever they expire I just get new ones,” said Barbara Palomba, a Lacey Township resident.
Residents can check the county website for clinic times and locations. Palomba says she’ll be there.