June 2007 Newsletter - Iodine tablets

Judy Vise (Leech) YHS 1952 asked a simple question in our last newsletter - could anyone enlighten her on the reason for the iodine tablets administered each Friday by the Form Captains back in the 50s. This has sparked a lot of different responses:-

Mary Newton (Bennett) YHS 1953 (and later a teacher) wrote: “thank you for another interesting newsletter. With reference to Iodine Tablets, Iodine is needed so that the thyroid gland functions properly and does not become enlarged (goiter). The tablets were given to make up for an apparent deficiency of iodine in the soil in Gippsland (remember that in those days, most of our vegetables were grown locally so would not have contained the amount of iodine that might have been provided from vegetables grown in other areas.”

John Goold YHS 1954 wrote: “Judy Vise's query about the reasons for the iodine tablets leads us back to a very interesting period in the history of the cold war, when Australian foreign and defence policy was totally subservient to British strategic requirements. In 1949, the British obtained R.G. Menzies' permission to test nuclear weapons in Australia. Australia hoped to obtain the knowledge and technology to produce such weapons for itself using information obtained from the British as a catalyst. Britain subsequently reneged on the deal because she hoped to gain information from the US that was conditional on nothing being shared with Australia. Australia was still interested in having such weaponry and a large fortune was spent on nuclear education, delivery systems, a breeder reactor and recruiting "bomb" makers. Australia was assessed by the UN as a nuclear capable state well into the 1960s when sanity prevailed and our government lost interest. However all that is another story. In 1952, the UK tested its first nuclear weapon at the Monte Bello islands off the coast of Western Australia. More weapons were later tested at Emu and Maralinga SA. In the words of the 1985 Royal Commission, safety procedures for these tests were a fiasco. Nothing apparently had been learned from the nuclear bombing of Japan. Eight thousand Australian servicemen and 22000 Brits were directly exposed to fallout, and fallout fell over southern and eastern Australia. It was detected as far north as Rockhampton and milk supplies had to be destroyed at Eden and Nowra. No adequate monitoring of the population took place nor have large scale follow up medical studies ever been conducted. There was an initial fear that there would be an increase in thyroid cancers in children and as a consequence it was decided to issue iodine tablets to all school children in the more populous contaminated areas. A clever cover story was spread that the water supplies in SE Australia were naturally iodine deficient and the weekly pill would stop children getting goiter. The media never added two and two together, the nuclear establishment and government kept quiet and the brown viscous fluid never escaped to hit the fan. In the early sixties, the pills were removed from our children's diets without fanfare. Evidently the water supply deficiency had fixed itself or goiter protection was now being provided by the salt industry. Well then, Australia survived its own version of Chernobyl. How much disease was caused or how our lives may have been shortened by such political and technical ineptitude will probably never be known. But don't bother taking out a class action against the government. The radiologically affected servicemen have been trying to get adequate compensation for years. I can't image we poor iodine overdosed Yogarites will be any more successful. (By the way, Judy Vise also mentioned Daryl George, son of the Yallourn Police Sergeant. I can remember Daryl marching away at the tender age of 13 to the Royal Australian Naval College (then at Flinders in Victoria I think) to commence a career as future naval officer. I used to sometimes wonder if Daryl ever got to be an admiral - now that would have been a first for Yallourn - back at you Judy to find out!)” Henry Winters YHS 1954 sent an email, which included: “Regarding Iodine tablets; these were administered to protect the Adam's Apple against Goiter. An interesting piece of trivia is that rain water washing down off the Jeeralang Hills contained the natural mineral so towns with reservoirs containing/collecting this mineral gave natural protection. The water running off the Great Dividing Range - Mt Erica/Mt Baw Baw - did not. Yallourn reservoir water was injected with chlorine to kill the bugs and fluoride to maintain healthy teeth, a progressive move by the SEC for its early days. Goiter caused enlargement of the thyroid gland, making the Adam's Apple of the throat large and morbid. Yallourn received treated Latrobe River water, Moe received water from the Narracan run off from the Jeeralangs.

Jan Fell (Armstrong) YHS 1957 wrote: “In reference to the query about iodine tablets in the last newsletter from Judy Vise - I am able to tell you a little. At that time, ? 1950's it was discovered that low (I think) iodine levels in the water supply system were responsible for thyroid malfunction. For this reason, we were all fed a tablet each week through the school. I remember too, that at about that time it became possible to purchase iodised salt and my mother used to tell us that was the reason. I wonder if anybody else can remember submitting to the tablets whether we needed them or not!!!

Monika Gardner (Fastenrath) YHS 1955 wrote: “They were given to prevent goiter (an enlargement of the thyroid gland). This was a condition often seen in adults of previous generations due to the lack of iodine in most foods that were the staple diet at the time. Since then, Iodine has been added to salt, however since medical advice that salt is not healthy for us, the public has decreased their intake of salt substantially with the result that the incidence of goiter is again on the increase.” Also raising interest about the nationalistic patriotism and class streaming at YHS in the early 50s, sparked I think by Richard Bush’s piece in the last newsletter, came these comments:-