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More than 1 million potassium iodide pills arrived at a state warehouse Monday from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and will be distributed within the 10-mile Emergency Planning Zone around the Millstone Power Station in Waterford this summer.
Scott DeVico, spokesman for the state Department of Emergency Services and Public Protection, said plans are being finalized for supplying each of the towns in the zone with enough of the 65 mg pills for each resident, along with instructions. The pills, known as KI for the Periodic Table symbols of potassium and iodine, are packaged in yellow boxes with 20 pills per box.
If there were a radioactive release from one or both of the operating nuclear reactors at Millstone due to an accident or other cause, residents in the zone would be instructed to take the pills to protect their thyroids from absorbing cancer-causing radioactive iodine isotopes.
The pills are most effective for children and young adults whose bodies are still developing, but all ages benefit somewhat, said Dr. Eric Braverman, founder and president of a nonprofit health advocacy group advocating wider distribution of the pills.
The dosage of each pill in the new supply is half that of the KI it replaces, so that a child would take one of the new pills and an adult would take two. The pills distributed in 2005, which have an expiration date of Sept. 1, had an adult dose of one pill and a child dose of one-half, DeVico said.
DeVico said his department will deliver the pills to schools, hospitals, nursing homes, child care centers and major employers in the zone. Each of the towns in the zone will decide how to get the pills to individual households.
"There won't be a uniform distribution system," he said. "Each town will decide on the points of distribution, whether they want to use the town hall or the fire house or another location." Due to the cost, the pills will not be mailed to homes in the Emergency Planning Zone.
Towns in the zone are all of Waterford, New London, East Lyme, Groton and Old Lyme, and the southeast corner of Lyme, the southern half of Montville and the southwest corner of Ledyard.
NRC spokesman Neil Sheehan said his agency sent 1.28 million pills to Connecticut, with the cost of the medication, packaging and delivery totaling about $3.6 million.
In East Lyme, the pills will be made available sometime after July 1 at the Town Hall, said Richard Morris, the town's emergency management director. Groton will make them available in July at the Town Clerk's office and the police department, said Joe Sastre, emergency management director.
"We'll do press releases, ads in local newspapers, radio spots and social media to let people know," he said. Residents will be instructed to discard their old supply in the regular trash. Since the pills are basically salt, they are not hazardous, Sastre added.
Old Lyme will also use town hall as its distribution site, along with other locations that have not yet been determined, said David Roberge, emergency management director. Meals on Wheels volunteers will bring the pills to shut-ins.
"Once we physically receive them, we'll start our awareness campaign, using cable news, Facebook, Twitter and the town website," he said.
Montville plans to use the Town Hall and the Fire Marshal's Office as distribution sites, said Raymond Occhialini, director of emergency management.
While Connecticut has been getting ready for a new distribution of the pills in the 10-mile zone, the PATH Foundation NY last week called for the program to be expanded fivefold nationwide, so that all residents who live within 50 miles of a nuclear power plant would receive KI pills. It also called on the NRC to stockpile KI at locations within 200 miles of nuclear power plants so that it could be distributed if a dangerous radioactive release occurred.
Braverman said Monday that his group advocates that the dosage should be reduced to 15 mg per pill. He cited research published in the current issue of the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health showing that taking a smaller dose for several days is more effective than a single, larger dose.
"The proper dose is 15 mg for eight days, because that's how long the plume lasts," he said. The NRC's current distribution protocol "hasn't been revised in 20 years," he said, and does not reflect current research. He said the radioactive plume from a nuclear accident can travel well beyond the 10-mile zone.
Last week the group hosted a news conference, with former New York governors George Pataki and David Paterson joining in the call for the wider distribution and a "National Day of Preparedness" to drill for a nuclear emergency.
The foundation plans to make a formal request to the NRC this week to expand its KI distribution program, Braverman said.
Sheehan of the NRC said the agency considered expanding KI distribution after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. In 2008, the White House's science adviser recommended against the expansion, arguing that limiting exposure by evacuations and preventing contaminated food from being consumed is more effective way to protect people.