Unlike iodide, which is highly toxic, iodine is used medicinally when mixed with alcohol as an antiseptic for external wounds. It’s an essential element for many species, (including us) for growth, development and lifespan. These qualities mean that it crops up in the form of potassium-iodide salt to stop goitre in humans, as well as being added to cattle feed in the farming industry. Plenty of iodine also makes its way into the non-vegan human diet through milk production via the practice of using iodine to sterilize cow’s udders.
What goes around comes around
Another less fortunate way that iodine has found its way into milk destined for human consumption occurred on October 10th 1957. Following a fire at Sellafield’s Pile One, and the subsequent attempts to get it under control, a large amount of steam carried radioactive particles and gases, over most of England and parts of Europe. This quickly entered the local food-chain from cattle grazing on contaminated land, and two days later, the Medical Research Council ruled that milk containing more than 3,700 Bq of radioactive iodine-137 per litre should not be consumed. Milk from outside the official exclusion zone contained higher quantities than this, but the Prime Minister of the time, Macmillan, classified the findings, citing a fear of “unnecessarily alarming” the public, rather than the more obvious fear that it might stop his ambition of building a British bomb.
So on our behalf, and suppressing the facts, something approaching 2 million litres of milk containing iodine-121 was dumped into the ocean and local rivers.
Every cloud has an iodine lining
Radioactive iodine -131 was also released after the Chernobyl disaster in 1986, which eventually spread over areas of Cumbria, where restrictions on farms were put in place, some of which are still monitored and restricted some 21 years later.
Closer to the epicentre of the Chernobyl disaster, aware that such an accident would inevitably release radioactive iodine into the atmosphere, where it would lodge itself inside people in the thyroid gland and cause cancer, stable iodine pills were given to the local population in a bid to stop the immediate onset of thyroid cancer. This non-radioactive form works by displacing the radio-iodine from the cells, distributing these more evenly throughout the body. The massive amounts of radioactive iodine that was released by this type of event however, quickly accumulates and disperses at great distances evidenced by the continuing banning of milk as far as Northern England.
I remember watching the news at the time, and a day later, walking through heavy rain on the way back from school. Switching on the news that evening, a report came on essentially saying that the rain I had been walking through was highly likely to contain iodine-131. Earlier on during that rainy day, I’d been looking up something in geography about cloud-seeding – which uses silver iodine as part of a process of creating rain. Scattering 1 gram of silver iodine in the form of a pyrotechnic discharge above a super-cooled water heavy cloud optimally produces 100,000 billion ice crystals over a very wide area. At the time this was a relatively new technology, but its use has steadily increased, despite (or perhaps because of) the difficulty with assessing whether or not the seeding actually produced any results.
Naturally, in China, where the firework was invented, pyrotechnic rain-making, particularly in the North continues apace, and according to Qin Dahe of the China Meteorological Administration, it’s set for more uses “…hail prevention and fog-dispersal techniques will also be used to help improve ecosystem and control forest fires, secure freeway transportation and the success of key social events like the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games and the 2010 Shanghai World Expo."