Surgeon General Benjamin gives toxic advice

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While we still don’t know the true extent of the radiation threat from the Japanese nuclear reactors damaged during the historically unprecedented earthquake and tsunami, there is one thing we do know — U.S. Surgeon General Regina Benjamin needs a refresher course in medicine. When asked by a reporter about the sudden increase in purchases of potassium iodide (KI) pills in the U.S. due to fears of radiation spreading to the California coast, Dr. Benjamin said this was not an overreaction and supported the idea. KI pills are used to prevent thyroid cancer, particularly in children exposed to high doses of radiation.

ACSH’s Jody Manley cannot believe how irresponsible the Surgeon General’s advisory was. Besides conveying a thoroughly baseless and alarmist message from the highest civilian public health authority, some Americans, upon hearing Dr. Benjamin’s excessively cautious advice, will not only waste money on these pills, but will start taking them just in case, says ACSH’s Dr. Josh Bloom. He also reminds us that “there is a subset of people who have allergies to iodide that can be serious, and they will be taking the pills for no reason. This statement by our Surgeon General is ill-informed and reckless.”

ACSH’s Dr. Elizabeth Whelan adds that while the surgeon general can’t know everything, “surely she must have people around her who understand what’s happening and would advise her of what to say and what not to say? Doesn’t she realize that what she says makes it into headlines? There are so many implications to her statement: she’s basically asserting that there’s an imminent risk of radiation poisoning — enough to warrant KI protection — which is not true.”