Is unwarranted panic in U.S. hurting relief efforts in Japan?

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PHOENIX – A Valley doctor says unwarranted panic is now hurting the relief efforts in Japan.

Nervous people in Arizona and across the country are so scared about radiation that one Valley doctor says they are gobbling up the supplies needed to help those in real danger.

Window of Hope is an Arizona-based non-profit medical and relief organization. For the last 12 years they have played a key role in the recovery efforts in places like Haiti and Guatemala. Their team is now trying to get to Japan but they can't because, people afraid of radiation are buying up the supplies they need.

Protective suits, gas masks, medicine and radiation monitors are things Dr. Jim Lindgren and his team will need when they get to Japan. They want to equip at least 50 Japanese relief workers with the gear but they can't.

"There is a huge panic going on where people are buying up all the potassium iodide,” Dr. Lindgren said. “They are buying up all the monitors. I can't even get a hold of things, and I have suppliers that we normally work with that won’t even answer our phone calls today because they are overwhelmed with orders coming in."

Monitors, for example, are $500 each. "Our supplier for the N.B.C. suits, the gas masks, had 900 hundred orders this week. While I was talking to him on the phone, he got 30 orders in four minutes," Dr. Lindgren said.

In an effort to calm Americans down, the federal government is now monitoring radiation levels 24/7. The EPA has eight towers spread out from Alaska to Hawaii.

Eric Stevenson, with the Bay Area Air Quality Management District, describes one of the machines. “It's basically in place to ensure that if there are any changes in the background radiation levels that we know about it quickly and can take effective action.”

Scientist Philip Fine says we are not at risk. “We don't really know how much is being emitted from the reactor in Japan but even if it was almost worst-case scenario, it appears that by the time it crosses the Pacific over four, five, six days, there's a lot of dilution and even though these are very sensitive instruments, and may pick up a little bit, what we are being told is that the radiation risk will be minimal or non-existent."

Dr. Lindgren says, "It’s very troubling thinking that some of these things will just sit in a closet in the United States where people are quite safe and, we won't be able to get that on our plane and get it to Japan where people are actually facing the risk."

The team is hoping to get everything together in the next few days. Dr. Lindgren gave up his practice to do this full time. Window of Hope runs on donations. To help, you can donate at Window of Hope.