HEALTH

Can Japan's Radiation Catastrophe Reach U.S.? Experts Say it's Unlikely

A man holds his baby as they are scanned for levels of radiation in Koriyama, Fukushima Prefecture, Japan, Sunday, March 13, 2011. Friday's quake and tsunami damaged two nuclear reactors at a power plant in the prefecture, and at least one of them appeared to be going through a partial meltdown, raising fears of a radiation leak. (AP Photo/Mark Baker)

A man holds his baby as they are scanned for levels of radiation in Koriyama, Fukushima Prefecture, Japan, Sunday, March 13, 2011. Friday's quake and tsunami damaged two nuclear reactors at a power plant in the prefecture, and at least one of them appeared to be going through a partial meltdown, raising fears of a radiation leak. (AP Photo/Mark Baker)  (AP2011)

Public health officials in the U.S. are trying to reassure residents that the potential release of radiation from Japan will pose no threat to the west coast.

“We are being told by the federal government there is very little chance of harm due to radiation,” Mike Sicilia, spokesman for the California Department of Public Health told Fox News Latino. “We’re really unconcerned of it coming to California.”

While Japan is bracing for potential calamity after a series of explosions at a nuclear power plant, people in the United States are starting to wonder if the disaster could affect them. After the 1986 Chernobyl meltdown and explosion in the Soviet Union, even the United States felt the effects of the fallout – particles of radiation drizzled all across the globe.

But nuclear experts all across the world are saying what is happening in Japan, so far, is much less severe – though the situation keeps changing by the hour. The radiation levels are already beginning to fall in Japan though the uranium fuel rods remain dangerously hot and the Japanese government is reacting quickly – unlike the Soviets who tried to cover it up – and has better mechanisms in place to prevent to a full-scale meltdown.

“Things would have to get kind of ‘end of days’ for us to see even a little bit of it here. We’re talking extreme,” Jordan Scott, a spokesman for the California Emergency Management Agency told the Los Angeles Times. “We’re just too far for anything to really reach us. A majority of the materials that would come out of there in a meltdown would dissipate” within miles of Japan.

The federal government is monitoring radiation levels all across the Pacific Ocean to trying to see if the unstable nuclear reactors are making their way to the west coast. But even if it does get picked up by a jet stream, experts say radiation particles would decay or dissipate by the time it travels 5,500 miles from the disaster zone.

A single particle from Japan could reach California in 25 hours. But any significant airborne material would take seven days to reach the west coasts, Dan Jaffe, an atmospheric chemist at the University of Washington in Bothell told the Oregonian.

Japan has evacuated 184,670, and health officials have said the disaster is posing no immediate health risks outside of the local area. Direct exposure leads to burning, poisoning and death. But because radiation exposure disrupts the body’s control mechanisms, lesser concentrations leads to birth defects, hair loss and cancer.

The anxiety of the nuclear crisis has people all across the world scrambling to buy potassium iodine pills, which can prevent the thyroid gland from absorbing radioactive iodine. One company, NukePills.com, is already out of stock, and pills on online auctions going for over $500 a packet. A family pack usually goes for $99.

But public health officials caution people from buying the pills out of unwarranted hysteria.

“Consult your #doctor before taking #iodine pills. Do not self-medicate!” the World Health Organization tweeted early Tuesday.

“We have heard that people are rushing out and buying potassium iodine. We are not recommending people do that,” Sicilia said Tuesday. “Because it will have no impact unless there is radioactivity at high levels. Also, some people are allergic to iodine and to shellfish, and they could have serious reactions from taking this preemptively – for no reason.”

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