Little more than a month ago, Geiger counters and radiation-blocking potassium iodide supplements were about as coveted as floppy disks. But soon after Japan's Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant began leaking radioactive isotopes of iodine and cesium, both started flying off U.S. shelves. Despite the fact that Japanese food imports are currently undergoing intense scrutiny--and last week's Food and Drug Administration assertion that there's no need to test Pacific fish for radioactivity--some people remain skeptical that the risk is being down-played.
According to Jeremy Sandusky, shift lead at Boise Co-op's meat and seafood counter, a handful of people have expressed concerns about radiation in fish.
"I think people are going a little bit overboard," said Sandusky. "With the levels of mercury that already exist in fish, a little bit of [radiation] isn't going to be any worse."
Boise's Reel Foods fish market also had a few customers ask about radiation levels, but the anxiety has been nominal compared to public concern after the 2010 BP oil spill. According to Don Elder, general manager at Ocean Beauty, which supplies Reel Foods, none of his clients have expressed unease.
"Radiation levels are below what you'd get from getting your teeth X-rayed at the dentist," said Elder. "Now if the plant blows up, that might be another story."
That scenario has many folks preparing for the worst. Boise Co-op has been overrun with customers seeking potassium iodide and iodate supplements, as well as iodine-rich products like kelp and seaweed, all of which can help protect against thyroid cancer. According to Rozanne Robertson, a retail clerk in Boise Co-op's vitamin department, there was a waiting list of 600-800 people for potassium iodate.
"It was such a slam with us ... they would call up and say, 'We'll take anything,'" said Robertson.
Though a sign outside Boise Army Navy now advertises iodine supplements, they didn't anticipate the demand.
"In the initial weeks, we had tons of requests for it," said Boise Army Navy owner Dan Turrittin. "It's not a product we carried in the past ... it's been selling slow since I brought it in because I think a lot of the panic has probably passed."
But people are stocking up on other items. Turrittin said candles, water filters and MREs have been recent high sellers.
"We normally sell disaster-prepared stuff anyway, but March was a good month for us," said Turrittin.
And as for hand-held Geiger counters for testing fish? Elder and Sandusky both called them expensive and impractical.
"Buy farmed stuff if you're really that concerned," said Sandusky.