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News Release

 
   PO 360
   Trenton, NJ 08625-0360

   For Release:
  August 19, 2002

 

Clifton R. Lacy, M.D.
Commissioner

For Further Information Contact:
Marilyn Riley or Tom Slater
(609) 984-7160


Update on Two Public Health Issues

TRENTON - Health and Senior Services Commissioner Clifton R. Lacy M.D. today announced results of anthrax testing on 38 mailboxes as well as the next phase in the public distribution of potassium iodide pills to people within 10 miles of the state's nuclear generating stations.

Anthrax Testing

Seventy-six samples from 38 mailboxes have tested negative for anthrax, the Commissioner announced. The FBI delivered the samples Thursday to the state Public Health Laboratory, and final testing results became available today. The testing is part of the ongoing investigation and response to the anthrax incident last October that affected the U.S. Postal Service's Hamilton mail processing and distribution center.

In addition, the Department this morning received 37 environmental samples from both the Monmouth and Kilmer postal facilities. The samples are part of testing being conducted by the United States Postal Service. Results are expected in 48 to 72 hours.

"Because of ongoing public interest in this testing, we wanted to announce results as soon as they were available," Commissioner Lacy said. "Our Department is providing public health laboratory support to the FBI and the U.S. Postal Service."

Potassium Iodide Distribution

As part of the next phase of potassium iodide distribution to the public, the Commissioner said that supplies of potassium iodide - known chemically as KI -- will be distributed by Labor Day weekend to 50 public and private schools in the ten-mile Emergency Planning Zones (EPZs) of the state's four nuclear generating stations.

The schools in Ocean, Salem and Cumberland County will stockpile the tablets as a preparedness measure in the event of a radiological emergency.

KI has been shown effective in preventing thyroid cancer in cases of exposure to radioactive iodine. If taken before or shortly after exposure, KI blocks the thyroid gland's ability to absorb radioactive iodine, which is particularly important for children.

"We hope to never have to use the pills, but should the need arise, schools will be prepared to respond quickly to help protect students and staff," Commissioner Lacy said. "However, KI does not protect against all radiation-related injuries. Evacuation and sheltering outside the EPZ are still the primary modes of protection in an emergency."

Supplies of KI will also be made available to schools that will serve as evacuation sites, in the event of an emergency.

The Department, with strong support from the State Department of Education, will be providing the school districts with guidelines for storing and distributing the tablets, training staff to respond in an emergency, and carrying out a KI distribution and evacuation. Among other provisions, the state guidelines require that KI only be dispensed to students and staff on the advice of the appropriate health official.

Schools will develop their own detailed plans for carrying out the programs locally.

The Departments of Education and Health and Senior Services in September will conduct in-service training for school nurses to help them effectively administer this program.

"We want to assure parents that KI is available to their children in the case of an emergency, but parents should know that participation is voluntary," Dr. Lacy said. "Early in the school year, parents will be sent fact sheets and permission slips so they can make an informed decision about their child's participation, should the need arise."

KI supplies will also be offered to health care facilities and correctional facilities in the 10-mile zones.

The department has also met with health officials from Ocean, Cumberland and Salem counties. To increase public access to KI, county health officers will work with the mayors in their jurisdictions to hold community education and distribution events beginning in the fall. The counties' health departments will also consider offering KI during other routine public health services and events.

In the first phase of KI distribution, the department held six public education and distribution sessions in July. Approximately 25,000 pills were distributed to an estimated 5,900 households and businesses.

New Jersey received a supply of 722,000 KI pills from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission in April. New Jersey was one of 33 states and one Native American nation within 10-mile zones around nuclear power plants to be offered the free supply.

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Department of Health and Senior Services
P. O. Box 360
Trenton, NJ 08625-0360

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