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June 12, 2002

School Expert Discusses Public Health Threat of a "Dirty Bomb"

In news articles from USA Today and the Associated Press, Jonathan Links, PhD, professor of Environmental Health Sciences at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, discusses the public health implications of the use of a so-called “dirty bomb.” As both articles explain, a dirty bomb uses conventional explosives to spread any type radioactive material.

Dr. Links told USA Today, “The real threat of a dirty bomb is psychological,” and added, “The truth is, you have to start with a boatload of radioactive material in a dirty bomb for the health risk to the population to be significant.”

The Associated Press reports that sales of potassium iodine tablets, which can protect the thyroid from one type of radiation fallout, have risen sharply since September 11 and more recently with reports of dirty bomb scenarios. In the article, Dr. Links and others experts explain that a dirty bomb could use several types of radioactive material, but potassium iodine tablets would only provide protection if the bomb contained radioactive iodine. He adds that laboratory testing of any radioactive samples could determine if radioactive iodine was present and if potassium iodine treatment would be necessary.

Public Affairs Media Contact for the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health: Tim Parsons @ 410.955.6878 or