Shipment of KI pills delivered to York County

A shipment of pills designed to offer protection in the event of a nuclear emergency arrived this week in York County.

The state health agency says residents here and in 12 other counties near nuclear power plants can pick up potassium iodide pills, which can help reduce the risks of some cancers during a radioactive release.

Emergency management officials stress that having the pills doesn't make it OK to ignore evacuation orders or other instructions during an accident. Some even question whether they serve a worthwhile purpose.

The shipment replaces an old batch of pills that are set to expire this month. But residents don't need to throw out the old tablets yet. The state health department says federal agencies have tested the pills and extended the expiration date to 2009.

More than 1.3 million potassium iodide pills have been distributed in South Carolina since 2002. No formal order has ever been given here or anywhere in the U.S. to actually take them, said Mary Bright, a nuclear response specialist in the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control.

"There's never been a need to put it out," she said. "But it's not something we would turn away from."

Potassium Iodide, also known as KI, is similar to table salt. If taken in time and in the appropriate dosage, KI blocks the thyroid gland's intake of radioactive iodine.

Cotton Howell, the county's director of emergency management, calls the pills "a legacy of the nuclear attack days" and says the best response to a radioactive release is to either stay inside or follow instructions to evacuate the area.

In York County, the pills can be picked up during weekday business hours at two locations:

• The York County Public Health Department, North Congress Street in York, and

• Rock Hill Public Health Center, 1070 Heckle Blvd., Rock Hill.

The area has two nuclear power stations: The Catawba Nuclear Station on Lake Wylie and the McGuire Nuclear Station in Mecklenburg County.

For information about the pills, call DHEC at 800-476-9677 or visit www.scdhec.gov.