YORKTOWN HEIGHTS, N.Y. - Squeezing it in after the Little League game or before the cookout, hundreds of suburbanites took a few minutes yesterday to pick up a pill that could save them from cancer in a nuclear disaster.
Westchester County, just north of New York City, began handing out 130-milligram doses of potassium iodide to those living within 10 miles of the Indian Point nuclear power station. The tablet is meant to be taken if there is a major release of radiation, a possibility that has been taken more seriously since the terrorist attacks of last September.
Westchester County Emergency Management worker Ray Albanese hands out potassium iodide pills to Yorktown Heights residents Terry Lisi, left, and Lucy Bucello, second from left, to combat thyroid cancer in case a nuclear radiation emergency arises from the neighboring Indian Point nuclear power plant, Saturday, June 8, 2002, in Yorktown Heights, NY. New York is the third state to have free distribution where 1 pill per person is given out to residents within ten miles of a nuclear facility. (AP Photo/ Stuart Ramson)
''Before Sept. 11, I felt safe,'' said Jalery Arce of Cortlandt Manor. ''I moved here from the Bronx with my son to be safe. Now I'm getting medicine in case there's a nuclear disaster. I don't feel that safe anymore.''
In the first hour, about 300 people obtained about 1,200 pills, said Tony Sutton, deputy commissioner of the county's Department of Emergency Services.
The event, held outside Yorktown High School on a perfect weekend morning, took on the appearance of a charity booth at a street fair, with people signing their names on a clipboard and reading information sheets - but coming away with a foil packet of medicine.
Demonstrators urged them not to be satisfied with potassium iodide, also known by its chemical symbol KI.
''The only real solution is to close the plant if you want to protect yourself and your children,'' said Gary Shaw of Croton.
In general, the crowd was skeptical about whether the jobs, taxes, and electricity generated by Indian Point are worth the risk.
But Thelma DeJoseph of Yorktown said she thinks Indian Point is safe, and she picked up her pills ''just as a precaution.''
''If people shut this plant, they won't realize what they've done until they start screaming about the price of running their air conditioners,'' she said.
Potassium iodide combats thyroid cancer, a common result of radiation exposure, by flooding the thyroid gland with harmless iodine, thereby blocking the absorption of radioactive iodine. Studies have shown that KI successfully prevented thyroid cancer, especially in children, after the Chernobyl disaster in 1986.
Copyright 2002 The Associated Press