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Dont get contaminated by all the radiation hype

“Don’t panic.”

These words, penned by Douglas Adams in “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” as a phrase meant to calm intergalactic travelers, are the best advice the U.S. can be given in light of the nuclear disaster in Japan.

And, unfortunately, it’s some of the only advice residents of states such as California aren’t following.

When natural disasters in Japan damaged reactors at the Fukushima nuclear power plant, leaked radiation immediately sparked concern, but not just in Japan and surrounding countries. No, the U.S. started to panic, too.

Talk of a radiation plume hitting the California coast and radiation detected by airport sensors in the Seattle-Tacoma Airport have driven consumers to buying iodide pills and radiation detectors – despite only minimal levels of radiation detected in both areas.

Panic isn’t unusual. After all, following the first reported swine flu death in 2009 many countries were full of people refusing to leave the homes without a surgical mask.

However, panic-buys of products like iodide pills and – in certain cases – salt, are actually more harmful than any of the minimal radiation reaching U.S. soil.

Despite the reassurances of health officials, who, according to the Associated Press, are asking consumers to avoid potassium iodide – types of pills that protect from one type of radiation – some companies that sell the drug are back ordered. Nukepills.com had sold 250,000 of the pills by March 16 and Anabex was receiving three orders per minute for its 14-tablet packages, according to the Daily Mail.

In light of the rush to buy salt, mostly in countries such as the Philippines and China, the World Health Organization (WHO) has issued a warning against overusing iodized salt in an effort to prevent radiation sickness.

In fact, WHO officials stated that any form of iodine medicines should not be taken, unless public health authorities recommend it.

No planes coming from Japan have had harmful levels of radiation, and radiation alarms – like the one at Seattle-Tacoma Airport – are actually set off all the time: 580,000 time last year, according to CNN Travel.

The last major nuclear disaster, in the Ukrainian city of Chernobyl, never affected the States. Even the current supposed plume of radiation that hit California had levels “about a billion times beneath levels that would be health threatening,” radiation expert Donald Bucklin said to CBS News.

In fact, small doses of radiation can actually be beneficial. Studies have shown that toxins like radiation, in small doses, have helped humans and mice live longer. USF researchers found improvement in Alzheimer’s symptoms in mice using the radiation from cellphones.

But preventative measures like sodium chloride (salt) and iodine are toxic in large amounts, according to WHO.

This doesn’t mean that U.S. citizens should live in an X-ray booth, or even embrace the fact that radiation is leaking from Japan at all, but it should be a small consolation for those concerned that a nuclear incident across the ocean will affect their health or country in a negative way.

At least, no more than their cellphones. And most Americans won’t be giving those up anytime soon.

Emily Handy is a senior majoring in mass communications.