Co-op Chaos: Park Slope Scrambles for Seaweed Amid Nuclear Fears

At around noon yesterday, the P.A. inside the Park Slope Food Co-op crackled to life.

“Does anyone know if we still have any iodine tablets?” came the query across the fluorescent-lit, bulk bin-lined, members-only floor.

They did not, according to a co-op shopper who was there at the time. She knew this because she had just come from the cramped offices a floor above, where potassium iodide, and a lack thereof from the co-op’s shelves, was a topic of intense conversation. It is widely held that this miracle elixir, a staple of the natural supplements set, can be ingested to help prevent radiation poisoning, as well as to cure other maladies.

Ever since a magnitude 8.9 earthquake destabilized the four-reactor Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant 6,611 miles away, there has been a run on potassium iodide tablets at the co-op.

Our shopper, a mom in her 30s, said that the office was being flooded with calls from concerned co-op members wondering if there were iodine tablets in stock–no–when they might be available–who knows, the suppliers are wiped out–and what alternatives there might be–bananas?

(That would be good if it was potassium you were after, but in this case, try yogurt, hard-boiled eggs or strawberries. Ideally, some strawberry-banana yogurt.)

Meanwhile, those not answering the phones were debating the ethics of hoarding the tablets. “Some people thought it was a good idea, a reasonable precautionary measure, but then the other people were like, ‘Think of the people in Japan who really need it,'” our source recalled. 

There was also a thorough discussion of whether the real reason the supplier had run out was because the Obama administration had begun stockpiling potassium iodide in case of a serious emergency. It was also a concern expressed by a grandmother in Prospect Park who was chatting up our source later that day, and said she had been on the phone to her husband and son in San Diego, about 5,400 miles from Fukushima, to see if they had gotten hold of some iodine pills. They had not.

Calls and emails to the White House press office have not been returned.

Another co-op member, a 20-something male who grew up in Park Slope, confirmed that the shelves were indeed empty of potassium iodide, though he was not sure the shop had ever carried the item in question. A co-op employee told our 20-something source this, as well, raising further doubts. 

Ann Herpel, general coordinator for the co-op, allayed these fears while reigniting new ones. “Let me read you the memo our guy sent around,” Ms. Herpel told The Observer over the phone. “Our distributor doesn’t have it, he’s sent it all to Japan. They’ll be rationing the next shipment. There’s a list, and we’re on it, but we don’t know when the shipments will start back up again.”

Co-op Chaos: Park Slope Scrambles for Seaweed Amid Nuclear Fears