Geiger counters and potassium-iodide pills -- which can help prevent radiation-caused thyroid cancer -- have been flying off the shelves, sometimes at unscrupulous prices.
Alan Morris, president of Anbex Inc., a Williamsburg, Va., company that is the largest supplier of FDA approved potassium iodide in the country, says his business "has been very hectic" since the earthquake hit last week.
"We've been selling a lot of product in the last few days," Morris says. "Our normal sales aren't even remotely close to that."
Fear Sells: Some Ridiculous Markups
Morris estimates that he has filled 15,000 orders for potassium-iodide pills sold under the brand name Iosat. The packages each contain 14 tablets and retail for $10.
"I hear that and I go crazy," Morris says. "That's just disgraceful. We have nothing to do with that. We sell the tablets for $10 and I wish it could be stopped."
Morris says the pills are an effective prophylaxis against thyroid cancer and have been used successfully at Three Mile Island and at Chernoybl in the Ukraine. But experts have argued that such preventive medicine is unlikely to be necessary, given the long distance from Japan, and that more risks than benefits could result from taking the medicine now.
Geiger Counters Fly Off the Shelves
Another hot seller this week is Geiger counters and radiation monitors.
Tim Flanagan, owner of Minerlab, a reseller of Geiger counters in Prescott, Arizona, says his business has been overloaded, especially with orders pouring into his website, geigercounters.com.
"This is demand like I've never seen it," Flanagan says.
All of his radiation detectors are sold out. Since orders started flooding in on Sunday, he's been telling people that the shipping time is several weeks, but on Thursday he began telling them it would take months to get the detectors because of the long backlog.
Selling to Japan
Devin Sper, president of Sper Scientific, a Scottsdale, Ariz., electronics firm, says his company has sold dozens of radiation detectors online for between $323 and $344 each. Orders are also coming in from distributors.
Normally, the bulk of Sper's sales come from scientific laboratories, which use the detectors to check radiation levels at labs after experiments. But now, most of his orders are from the general public, which is worried about Japanese fallout.
"We anticipate that sales will be strong and we've taken steps to increase our inventory," Sper says.
Expecting even greater demand for radiation monitoring in Japan, one wily entrepreneur in Wichita, Kan., even placed an ad on Craigslist's Tokyo website that offers a Geiger counter for $350, plus $35 shipping.
There's no word on how long it would take to arrive.