Nuke Pills? U.S. Government purchases more than 4.5 million units of potassium iodide for distribution to U.S. residents living within 10 miles of nuclear power plants.

Don Corrigan - May 01, 2009

Few people are as prepared for a radioactive disaster as two sisters who work together at a little-known business in Fenton (Missouri). The business produces ThyroShield, a medicine for protection in a radioactive emergency.

"I always have some ThyroShield in my car," said Deborah Fleming Wurdack of Wildwood, who owns the prospering Fleming Pharmaceuticals along with her sister, Tommye Fleming of Kirkwood. The Fenton business made medical sales trade headlines earlier this year with a boost in its international sales.

"We have received some notice because of a sale of 180,000 units to the Kuwait Ministry of Health," said Wurdack. "Obviously, Kuwait is close to the trouble spot of Iran and they have some concerns about what could happen at a nuclear reactor that is not so far away from their coast."

Thyroshield is a potassium iodide oral solution in a thyroid-blocking liquid that protects infants, children, adults - even pets - in the event of a release of radioactivity that results in exposure to radioactive iodine.

Just in the past three years, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has purchased more than 4.5 million units of ThyroShield for distribution to U.S. residents living within 10 miles of nuclear power plants.

"This product can be used to protect you in the event of a nuclear plant disaster or certain kinds of nuclear terrorism," said Wurdack. "It's really not a magic bullet, but it's definitely something you would want to have on hand in the event of a radioactive emergency.

"The point is, we've had such a disaster and we have data that shows it works," added Wurdack. "After the Chernobyl plant disaster, there was significant radioactive contamination downwind. In Poland, some of our product was used for children in the radioactive area. They had far less illnesses related to radioactive exposure than children in Belarus who received no potassium iodide."

American nuclear energy experts argue that U.S. plants are much safer than those built in the former Soviet Union, such as the Chernobyl plant north of Kiev. However, America had its own nuclear plant disaster at Three Mile Island near Harrisburg, Penn., in 1979. The accident involved a release of radioactivity.

Government Stockpiles

"We've been making this medicine for 30 years as PIMA, but the FDA took it off the market for a while," said Wurdack. "Then we were given exclusivity for the manufacture of the product and it became ThyroShield. As a liquid, it can be administered by a dropper and we have given it a fruit berry taste.

"We really began getting major orders from Homeland Security after the 9/11 attack," Wurdack added.

ThyroShield is proven effective in reducing the risk of thyroid cancer in populations at risk of inhalation or ingestion of radioiodines. It floods the thyroid with non-radioactive iodine and prevents the uptake of the radioactive molecules, which are subsequently excreted in waste.

Recommendations for dosage are based on exposure levels and on categories of risk for thyroid cancer. Young people are in a priority group because of increased sensitivity to the carcinogenic effects of radioiodine. Of course, no medicine would be effective in the event of intense exposures in an all-out nuclear war.

People in mid-Missouri, within a 20-mile radius of the Callaway nuclear plant near Fulton, would find use for ThyroShield in the event of a radioactive accident. Wind conditions and release levels might also put residents of St. Louis in a situation in which ThyroShield would be an advisable preventative.

"In a bad accident, shelter and evacuation are always going to be preferable, but not always possible," said Wurdack. "If you had a reactor blow near Chicago, or in populated areas of the East or West coasts, it is simply not going to be possible to evacuate fast enough."

International Market

"ThyroShield is not something you can pick up at your local drug store," said George F.C. Love, vice president of regulatory affairs at Fleming Pharmaceuticals. "We recommend people use

on the Internet to make an order."

The product is sold in bulk and appears to be developing an international market. Love said the huge Kuwaiti purchase may be followed with more sales to countries in the Middle East.

"South Korea certainly also has an interest in this product with the nuclear activities taking place to their north," Love said.

Fleming Pharmaceuticals has come a long way since chemist Tom E. Fleming started manufacturing antacids in a basement in the Old Orchard area of Webster Groves in the 1960s. Fleming, the first owner and president of the company, passed the business on to his daughters.

Today, Fleming Pharmaceuticals President Phill Dritsas said the company is positioned to do well with sales in several areas of medicine, including popular nasal sprays and mists under the Ocean brand. The Fenton company also boasts a research and development program focusing on allergies, nutrition and topical care.

Most recently, however, Fleming Pharmaceuticals is getting noticed for its "nuke pills." Wurdack said the public needs to pay more attention to the availability of ThyroShield.

"At trade shows, people from the northeast states seem to be more aware of the need for this product," said Wurdack. "Unfortunately, people don't give much thought to a product like this until there is an emergency."

Source: South County Times,

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