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'Dirty Bomb' Treatment Has Potential

February 01, 2003|From Associated Press

WASHINGTON — Federal health officials say a compound long used as the artist's pigment Prussian blue could be an important antidote to a "dirty bomb" attack, and they are calling for drug companies to quickly seek permission to manufacture it.

The Food and Drug Administration action Friday marks a big step toward radiation specialists' call for a stockpile of the antidote -- all but guaranteeing sales approval for manufacturers who meet some fairly simple conditions.

An Energy Department-funded facility in Oak Ridge, Tenn., has the nation's only supply of Prussian blue in pill form, and that supply is limited.

That facility, the Radiation Emergency Assistance Center/Training Site, or REACTS, helps with radiation accidents worldwide. REACTS buys experimental Prussian blue pills from a German firm, and had urged the FDA to approve the compound so it would be easier to stockpile in case of a terrorist attack.

Friday, the FDA took a big step toward doing that, declaring Prussian blue an effective treatment for exposure to certain forms of radioactive cesium and thallium.

Those materials are commonly used, at low doses, in medical treatment and diagnosis. But high levels can be deadly, and they are among the materials that officials worry might be used in a "dirty bomb" -- a device that isn't nuclear but that uses conventional explosives to disperse radioactive material.

Only the drug potassium iodide is now available for protection against radiation. It shields only the thyroid gland from radioactive iodine.

It has just one use -- to prevent thyroid cancer.

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