Tens of thousands of people in the Greater Toronto Area have placed orders for free potassium iodide pills in the days following a false alert from the province about an incident at a nuclear plant in Pickering, Ont.
Sunday’s alert, which was sent to mobile phones across the entire province, shocked those living within a 10 kilometre radius of the Durham Region plant and those who reside further away.
About an hour after the 7:24 a.m. alert, Ontario Power Generator (OPG), the plant’s operator, tweeted without explanation that the warning “was sent in error.”
Although the mistake left some people fuming, others stepped up their planning for a real emergency.
Between Sunday morning and Monday afternoon, 32,388 orders were placed for potassium iodide tablets through Durham Region’s PrepareToBeSafe website, which is jointly managed by the City of Toronto and OPG.
Typically, OPG says there are between 100 and 200 orders placed per month.
The pills can be ingested to protect the thyroid gland from radioactive iodine that could be released into the air in event of a nuclear emergency.
In small quantities, it is an “essential nutrient for your thyroid gland to function properly,” and is “effective in reducing the threat of thyroid cancer to residents at risk of inhaling or ingesting radioactive iodine,” according to the Government of Canada’s website.
The pills are distributed automatically to homes and businesses within 10 kilometers of every nuclear power plant in Ontario.
For people within 10 to 50 kilometers of a plant, they can be ordered for free through the PrepareToBeSafe website.