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Europeans Seek Advice On Invisible Risk From Chernobyl Disaster

May 2, 1986

LONDON (AP) _ Hundreds of West Germans called a weather center Friday to ask about the risk of fallout. A Swiss newspaper published a front-page article warning people not to take iodine tablets as a precaution against radiation. Yugoslavia warned its citizens not to spend too much time outdoors.

All over Europe, people worried about the Soviet nuclear reactor accident have been swamping government offices, hospitals and pharmacies with medical and travel queries.

Most European governments, however, have assured their citizens that low- level radiation from the Chernobyl nuclear accident in the Ukraine poses no health threat.

″We had 400 calls in the last three hours,″ said Helmut Dommermuth, a spokesman for the West German weather center in Offenbach, which is coordinating reports on radiation levels nationwide.

″Most of them say they are worried because you can’t see or smell radiation,″ he said. ″They also ask if they can eat the vegetables from their gardens, if their children can go out. Many people are worried.″

There is concern, but no evidence of panic.

″We are naturally quite worried,″ said Mikael Berntson, 31, a postal clerk in Stockholm, Sweden. ″But we are not struck by panic or anything like that.″

Since Sweden first detected higher-than-normal radiation levels Monday, clouds of radioactive dust from the Chernobyl plant in the southwestern Soviet Union have drifted across much of Europe.

Levels have been dropping in Scandinavia, but shifting winds have carried the fallout into Romania, Hungary, eastern Czechoslovakia and Austria.

State-run radio and television stations in East European countries broadcast a steady stream of calming statements, but warned people to avoid staying outdoors for long periods and urged them not to eat unwashed fruit and vegetables.

Belgrade Radio reported Friday that radiation levels were nearly 10 times above normal but still were not dangerous.

″There is no need for excessive alarm,″ said a radio broadcast. It added that the city had stopped using drinking water from the Sava River, its main source, and instead was using well water.

On Thursday, a television station in Zagreb, a city of 1 million in northern Yugoslavia, showed footage of virtually deserted city streets after health authorities had told people to stay indoors following a heavy rainfall.

″We never know if the authorities are telling the truth or whether they are simply trying to avoid panic,″ said Darinka Peric, a Belgrade housewife. ″I will not go outside my home for a day or two.″

In Poland, the country closest to the disaster site, authorities have banned the sale of milk from grass-fed cows and have been administering iodine to children under 16. The precautions remained in effect Friday, although levels of radioactivity in the air have been falling.

Iodine can hinder the body’s absorption of radiation.

Increased demand for iodine has been reported in several European countries. The Royal Dutch Pharmacists Association said it received 120 calls from member pharmacists, who reported heavy demand for iodine tablets.

Health authorities in the Netherlands and other European countries warned against the indiscriminate use of iodine, which can produce side effects such as nausea and rashes and, in long-term user, damage to the thyroid gland.

One of Switzerland’s largest newspapers, Tages-Anzeiger of Zurich, published a front-page article Friday quoting scientists as saying iodine tablets should not be taken unless radiation rose to 100 times the normal level. The current level of radiation in Switzerland is two to four times the normal amount and is within safe limits, the newspaper said.

Britain’s National Radiological Protection Board detected the first radiation from Chernobyl over southeastern England on Friday. It said the level of radiation was very low and posed no health hazard.

Even before the report, callers were jamming the agency’s switchboard all day, said a board spokesman who spoke on condition of anonymity.

″We even got calls from people saying they hadn’t opened letters from the Soviet Union because of the fear of contamination,″ he said.

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