It is important to protect yourself against radioactive iodine:
- If you live close to a nuclear installation.
Residents of municipalities in a zone of 20 kilometres around a nuclear installation (10 kilometres for the IRE Fleurus) should be supplied with iodine tablets. This precaution is even more important if you have children or plan to have children in the near future.
- If you are under 18 years of age.
The younger you are, the more vulnerable you are to the effects of radioactive iodine. Throughout Belgium, families with children and young people under 18, pregnant women and breastfeeding women are advised to take a box of iodine tablets.
Older than 40
For adults over the age of 40, apart from a nuclear incident, we recommend discussing the possible use of iodine tablets on their appointment with their general practitioner. Iodine tablets saturate the thyroid gland and that is less appropriate for this age group because:
- the risk of thyroid cancer decreases as you get older.
- in persons older than 40, the thyroid gland is often disrupted, especially in regions that are poor in iodine, such as Belgium. The risk of unwanted side effects when taking iodine tablets is higher.
When the functioning of the thyroid gland is very disrupted, the disadvantages of taking iodine tablets (unwanted side effects such as heart problems) may be greater than the benefits (avoiding thyroid cancer). People over 40 may therefore choose not to take iodine tablets, unless there is a risk of very high doses. However, this only applies to first responders, not to local residents.
The age indication of 40 years old corresponds to the current knowledge and recommendations of the World Health Organization (WHO). The recommendation to take iodine tablets will always coincide with the recommendation to take shelter. Sheltering is always the best protection against radioactive iodine and other substances, regardless of your age.
Older people living close to a nuclear installation (20 km zone, or 10 km for the IRE Fleurus) are recommended to get iodine tablets from the pharmacist. Young people might visit them, for example, if they babysit their grandchildren. In a nuclear accident they can then play a "solidarity role" for neighbours or visitors.