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MILITARY STOCKING UP ON ANTI-RADIATION PILLS
By Adam Entous
July 2, 2002
WASHINGTON - At the urging of the Bush administration, military commanders
are quietly stocking up on anti-radiation pills and making plans to give
them to U.S. troops should they be exposed to radioactive fallout from an
attack or accident, according to documents and officials.
Suppliers of potassium iodide say shipments to the military have increased
in recent months amid fears of war between nuclear-armed rivals India and
Pakistan, and new terror threats against American targets including nuclear
One of the largest orders -- 134,400 potassium iodide tablets for 9,600
troops -- was shipped to the U.S. Army on May 28, according to records
obtained by Reuters.
If taken immediately after exposure, the tablets have been shown to protect
the thyroid gland from diseases caused by radiation.
A spokesman for U.S. Central Command said it was not distributing potassium
iodide tablets to troops in Afghanistan and other South Asian countries,
disputing the claims of several suppliers.
The Pentagon would not discuss its potassium iodide policy, which was
outlined in an internal memorandum issued two months after the Sept. 11
attacks that killed more than 3,000 people.
In the memorandum, dated Nov. 19, 2001, William Winkenwerder, assistant
secretary of defense for health affairs, directed Army, Navy and Air Force
commanders to assess the risk to troops and to develop "implementation plans
on the use of potassium iodide."
"The U.S. military overseas, their families, U.S. civilian workers and
contractors may be at risk from hostile actions and other events against
nuclear power plants resulting in radioactive iodine release," wrote
Winkenwerder, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's chief health adviser.
In November and in a follow-up memo issued on Jan. 24, Winkenwerder told the
services that they "must ensure availability of supply" of potassium iodide.
He also provided the secretaries of the Army, Navy and Air Force with
guidance on how the tablets should be administered. It depends on whether
the radioactive material is inhaled or ingested and on how long troops are
exposed to a radioactive plume.
Winkenwerder put the Armed Forces Radiobiology Research Institute in charge
of reviewing the plans.
"We will take appropriate action when we get the plans," said Peter Esker,
spokesman for the institute.
The Pentagon would not elaborate.
"The policy memo speaks for itself," said James Turner, a Pentagon
spokesman. "The commanders-in-chief, in any given part of the world, will
assess the situation and will be responsible for providing appropriate
material to their troops."
Underscoring U.S. fears that terrorists will try to use weapons of mass
destruction, Winkenwerder announced on Friday a separate policy to vaccinate
some military personnel against anthrax and to stockpile the vaccine for
POTASSIUM IODIDE ORDERS RISE
Between January and June of this year, the military purchased more than
400,400 potassium iodide tablets -- enough for at least 28,600 troops --
through the Defense Logistics Agency and the Defense Supply Center in
That amount represents an 80 percent increase over the amount of potassium
iodide purchased by the military during the January to June period in 2001,
according to Defense Supply Center records.
The tablets were supplied by two companies -- Anbex Inc. and Carter-Wallace,
which is now part of MedPointe Inc.
Potassium iodide orders surged after Winkenwerder's memo. In December and
January alone, more than 303,000 tablets were purchased, enough for more
than 21,700 troops. A 29,400-tablet order for 2,100 troops was filled by the
Defense Supply Center on April 6, followed by the Army's 134,400-tablet
shipment on May 28 for 9,600 soldiers.
The Defense Supply Center's figures do not include orders placed
independently by the military services and their divisions, suppliers say.
The move to supply potassium iodide to troops and their families comes amid
heightened fears that terrorists might attack nuclear power plants in the
United States and abroad, or try to use nuclear or radiological weapons.
But potassium iodide's usefulness is limited since it must be taken almost
immediately after exposure and only protects against absorption of
radioactive iodine. The tablets offer no protection against other
radioactive isotopes, which might be released by a "dirty" bomb and other
Despite these limitations, the military is not alone in stocking up on
potassium iodide. The Department of Health and Human Services has purchased
1.6 million doses and plans to buy 5 million to 10 million more this year,
The Department of Veterans' Affairs has placed two large orders so far this
year on behalf of HHS -- the first went to Salt Lake City in case of an
attack on the Olympic Games.
The second order was placed within the last month for HHS' office of
emergency preparedness, according to Veterans' Affairs. Officials would not
disclose its destination.
Stored in secret warehouses, HHS' stockpile would be tapped in the event of
a "catastrophe, man-made or otherwise, at a nuclear power plant," spokesman
Bill Pierce said.
The Nuclear Regulatory Commission is also stocking up on the tablets as part
of a program to make potassium iodide available to people living near
nuclear power plants.
Sabotage and Terrorism of Nuclear Power Plants:
Potassium Iodide Anti-Radiation Pill FAQ:
Civil Defense Radiation Detection Survey Meters, Geiger Counters &
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