Local pharmacies are being flooded with customers wanting to buy potassium iodide tablets to mitigate potential negative effects if radiation from nuclear explosions in Japan were to travel to the West Coast, employees say.
"We've been getting a lot of calls from people wanting it," said one employee at . But she added that the store does not carry the tablets.
At a local CVS pharmacy, workers said customers have been asking about the tablets, but the pharmacy does not stock them and suggested trying vitamin and mineral store GNC at Stoneridge Mall in Pleasanton.
"We don't sell the tablets, but we do sell kelp, a natural source of iodide," said one employee. But even that has a waiting list.
"It's at least a couple pages long of people wanting to buy it," the employee added.
Some Bay Area health officials are advising people that the threat of radiation exposure is not there, and that people should avoid taking the potassium iodide tablets.
According to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, Japan’s nuclear emergency presents no danger to California or the rest of the United States, even though a cloud of radiation from Japan is expected to reach the West Coast sometime tomorrow.
Potassium iodide tablets are given to people exposed to excessive radiation to block absorption of radioactive iodide.
"Using potassium iodide when inappropriate could have potential serious side effects such as abnormal heart rhythms, nausea, vomiting, electrolyte abnormalities and bleeding," according to the California Department of Public Health.
On Tuesday, Bay Area health leaders in Contra Costa County issued a notice saying there appears to be no risk at present to area residents from radioactivity leaking from damaged reactors in Japan.
"Given the thousands of miles between here and Japan, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission does not expect to find any harmful levels of radioactivity in Hawaii, Alaska or the West Coast," according to the statement.
Alameda County health officials are directing residents to their website, which offers similar information.
The California Department of Public Health also has published "Frequently Asked Questions" about radiation, citing the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission saying there's no danger to California from Japan's nuclear emergency and advising against taking potassium iodide.
Other advice from Bay Area health officials is to "get prepared in the event of an emergency."
Preparedness tips can be found at http://www.cchealth.org/topics/emergencies/.
On a national level, technology is being used to enhance preparedness.
The federal Environmental Protection Agency said Tuesday it is installing additional radiation monitors in the Western United States, including Alaska and Hawaii, and in Guam. The agency has monitors already in place in California, including one in San Francisco, whose readings are accessible to the public at http://www.epa.gov/cdx.
Reactors in a nuclear power complex 140 miles northeast of Tokyo have leaked radiation in the wake of the 8.9-magnitude earthquake that struck Japan.
The quake and the resulting tsunami knocked out the reactors' cooling systems, and resulting explosions, fires and overheating of fuel rods at the power plants have sent radiation into the atmosphere.
Japanese authorities so far have not been able to bring the disaster under control, spawning fears of a partial meltdown and a much larger release of radioactive materials.
Click here for a full on radiation risks.
Erika Conner contributed to this report.