updated 3/24/2011 3:16:57 PM ET 2011-03-24T19:16:57

ALEXANDRIA, Va., March 24, 2011 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) -- U.S. poison centers, which were at the forefront of public health response to the 2009 H1N1 flu pandemic and the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill, have agreed to assist the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and state health departments with responding to public concerns about radiation and other poison exposures resulting from the March 11 earthquake in Japan and radiation leaks from nuclear plants in that nation.

"Poison centers are staffed by medical experts around-the-clock, and both our call centers and our exposure database serve as important public health tools during national emergencies," said Richard Dart, MD, PhD, president of the American Association of Poison Control Centers (AAPCC). "Poison centers are well-prepared to help respond to these concerns."

Based on what is currently known, CDC and other agencies have reported they expect no harmful levels of radiation to reach the United States. However, these agencies are working to address public health concerns stemming from the Japan crisis, including the possibility of radiation exposure among Americans living in Japan and international travelers. 

As part of this effort, CDC is asking those with questions about radiation exposure related to the earthquake to contact their local poison center at 1-800-222-1222. For example, CDC is recommending that travelers returning to the United States from Japan who have set off a radiation detector contact a poison center to learn more about health effects of radiation. CDC also has posted the poison centers' 1-800-222-1222 number on its website.

Poison centers, in turn, are tracking exposures through the AAPCC's National Poison Data System (NPDS) and will report that information to CDC, providing invaluable information about the public health impact of the Japan disaster.

Using information from CDC and other agencies, as well as state and local health departments, poison centers will field questions about the health effects of radiation from the damaged nuclear plants in Japan.

Some poison centers began receiving calls almost immediately after the crisis in Japan began, and days later poison centers around the country had already reported a high number of calls related to the disaster in Japan.

AAPCC Director of Toxicosurveillance Alvin C. Bronstein, MD, said that, in the event radiation exposures from Japan are detected in the United States, poison centers will be able to help track their effects on Americans via NPDS.

"NPDS is the only near-real time national database of toxic exposures in the United States," Bronstein said. "This database will be a crucial factor in determining the impact of this disaster on people in the United States."

Currently, the 57 U.S. poison centers serve all 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, American Samoa, the Federated States of Micronesia, Guam and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

"Poison centers are well-equipped to answer any questions people have about this disaster or any other possible poison exposure," said AAPCC Executive Director Jim Hirt. "We have the people and the infrastructure available to help CDC respond to this disaster and we stand ready and willing to help."

About the American Association of Poison Control Centers:

The American Association of Poison Control Centers supports the nation's 57 poison centers in their efforts to treat and prevent poisoning. Poison centers offer free, confidential medical advice 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

If you have questions about poisons, or you believe you've been exposed to something that could be bad for you, call your poison center at 1-800-222-1222.

Contact: Jessica Wehrman

wehrman@aapcc.org

(703) 894-1863

www.aapcc.org

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