State and federal experts — as well as President Barack Obama — have said Hawaii faces little risk of radiation from the damaged Japanese nuclear power plant reaching Hawaii.

Still, many residents have stocked up on potassium iodide (KI) pills — which can be used as a diet supplement to saturate the body with iodide so that it doesn’t absorb radioactive iodide from the environment.

State health officials are now telling Hawaii residents they risk adverse side effects by taking the pills as a precaution.

“Those who ingest potassium iodide out of concern for possible exposure from this situation are doing something which is not only ineffective, but may also cause unwanted side effects,” said Interim Health Director Loretta Fuddy. “If a need should arise for residents to start taking potassium iodide to guard against effects of radiation exposure, the Hawaii State Department of Health along with other local, state and federal agencies will inform the public. We do not anticipate this need.”

During a nuclear emergency, public health officials may recommend use of KI to offer some protection against radioactive iodide, which can affect the thyroid gland. But KI is not recommended for use as a precautionary medication, health officials said.

The release states:

“KI can be harmful to people with allergies to iodine or shellfish, those with certain skin disorders, or those with thyroid problems. Observed but infrequent side effects of ingesting potassium iodide include nausea, intestinal upset, rashes, inflammation of the salivary glands, and possibly severe allergic reactions.”

The Department of Health’s news release can be found here.

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