Potassium iodide tablets recently distributed to Health Departments in 13 counties across the state, including Aiken County, should be used in case of a radiological release, according to S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control spokesman Jim Beasley.

Who can take potassium iodide?

Most people can take potassium iodide safely, according to DHEC. A small number of individuals could actually have an adverse reaction. Anyone with an existing thyroid gland condition or anyone allergic to iodine or shellfish should not take potassium iodide without consulting a physician. DHEC recommends consulting with your physician if unsure whether you should take potassium iodide.

Recommended doses by age group

Adults and Adolescents (more than 150 lbs.): 130 mg tablet; 2 ml liquid

Children ages 3 to 18 (less than 150 lbs.): 65 mg tablet; 1 ml liquid

Infants (1 month to 3 years old): 32 mg tablet; 0.5 ml liquid

Infants (birth to 1 month old): 16 mg tablet; 0.25 ml liquid

“Hopefully, you'll never need them at all,” Beasley said. “People just need to know where they are and hold on to them for safe keeping.”

He stressed that the tablets provide additional protection against one form of radiation and should not be considered any kind of “magic pill.”

He added that Aiken County residents living near the Vogtle Nuclear Power Plant are encouraged to pick up the potassium iodide tablets recently distributed by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

According to DHEC, potassium iodide can protect the thyroid gland from radioactive iodine and can reduce the risk of thyroid cancer after the event of a severe nuclear emergency.

The expiration date for the new tablets is October 2017. Residents in possession of tablets with a May 2013 expiration date may dispose of those tablets once a new supply has been picked up. Participation is voluntary.

South Carolina received 2.4 million tablets for distribution to residents living within the 10-mile Emergency Planning Zone of five nuclear power plants in or adjacent to the state.

Beasley noted that residents living near a plant would likely have been notified by the plant if they live within the 10-mile radius of the Emergency Planning Zone.

County residents would be informed of a radiological release via the state's emergency alert system, Beasley said.

Derrec Becker, spokesman for the S.C. Emergency Management Division, said the Aiken area is impacted by the Vogtle Plant and Savannah River Site, but that SRS does not generate any nuclear material.

The Vogtle plant is located near Waynesboro in eastern Georgia, close to the South Carolina border.

Becker said SRS, a federal facility, actually handles its own emergency management planning, but works closely with the state's Emergency Management Division as part of its crisis planning.

The Aiken Standard received several phone calls from concerned residents regarding the distribution of the tablets after a story appeared on page 1A of Monday's edition.

For more information about potassium iodide, call the Aiken County Health Department at 803-642-1687 or DHEC's Nuclear Response and Emergency Environmental Surveillance Section at 1-800-476-9677.

• Michael Ulmer covers the county government beat for the Aiken Standard and has been with the newspaper since March 2013. He is a native of North Augusta and majored in political science at the University of South Carolina.

* Editor's note: This story was revised to reflect SCDHEC's differentiation between a radiological "spill" and "release."