Where are the KI
pills? Cape Cod Times, July 13, 2005
By KEVIN DENNEHY
Bulk supplies of a drug that would reduce health risks after a nuclear
meltdown still haven't been delivered to the Cape and islands, more than
two years after state law required potassium iodide for every community
in the region.
For more than a year, the state Department of Public Health has been
stalled because several towns were slow to formally request the
And now that all the requests are in - and the state is finally sending
out a $371,000 bill - there's no assurance that Entergy Corp., the only
nuclear plant owner in Massachusetts, will pay it.
For local leaders, who call the nonprescription drug a simple step to
reduce risk if something were to go wrong at the Pilgrim Nuclear Power
Station in Plymouth, the delay has been utterly frustrating.
If taken within a few hours of the release of nuclear radiation,
potassium iodide, or KI, can reduce the chances of thyroid cancer,
according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Children,
infants and fetuses are particularly sensitive to thyroid disease.
Once the drugs are delivered to towns across the region, communities
will keep them stored in schools and emergency centers.
But the towns are still waiting.
''The whole process has been painfully slow,'' said state Rep. Matthew
Patrick, D-Falmouth, who pushed the original legislation. ''It's almost
sad, really. Thank God we haven't had any accidents in the meantime.''
Potassium iodide essentially blocks the absorption of radioactive iodine
by flooding the thyroid with non-radioactive iodine so there is no room
for the radioactive molecules.
While potassium iodide would not protect humans from all threats of
exposure to radioactivity, the National Academy of Sciences has
recommended that the government make it available to all people under 40
who live near a nuclear power plant.
The state of Massachusetts already provides KI pills to communities
within 10 miles of nuclear power plants.
But the post-9/11 legislation, signed by former Gov. Jane Swift,
expanded the reach of the law to include towns on Cape Cod and the
islands, which are up to 50 direct miles from the nuclear plant in
That coverage also includes Massachusetts towns on Cape Ann - including
Gloucester, Manchester-by-the-Sea and Essex - waterfront communities
near the Seabrook Nuclear Power Plant in New Hampshire.
Before distributing the drugs, however, the state DPH wanted to have all
communities on board to make the best use of bulk purchases.
''It's really inefficient to do this piecemeal, one community at a
time,'' Suzanne Condon, director of DPH Center for Emergency
Preparedness, said yesterday.
It has taken more than 1½ years - and numerous letters - to sign up all
27 affected communities.
Only in the last few weeks did the state finally hear from Gloucester,
the final town to respond.
With that, the DPH today will send the $371,000 bill to Entergy to cover
the costs of the KI supplies, Condon said. About $345,000 of that would
go for KI supplies on Cape Cod.
Condon had no comment on whether she expected Entergy to deliver
payment. ''We're going to send the bill ... and we'll see what comes
Entergy officials yesterday were noncommittal.
Times have changed since the legislation was approved just a couple of
years ago, said Carol Wightman, a spokeswoman for the Pilgrim plant in
At that time, she said, most energy utilities in the state bought energy
from Seabrook in New Hampshire. Now, they don't.
Bill goes to Entergy
And since Entergy owns the only nuclear plant in Massachusetts, the
company would have to cover the bill, even though the Pilgrim plant is
some 50 miles from Cape Ann.
''The entire burden for the funding of the KI would be placed on
Entergy,'' Wightman said.
''We're looking at the current basis and validity of the assess-ment
process being used for KI on the Cape and Seabrook,'' she said.
Some towns are getting impatient.
In Sandwich, for instance, it's been two years since town meeting voters
endorsed the acceptance of KI tablets. And still nothing.
''We've been waiting here,'' said David Mason, the Sandwich health
He says he has had several conversations with the state about the town's
''We've been told, 'It's coming. It's coming' ... It's something I think
we'd like to have resolved.''