[ RadSafe ] HPA PRESS RELEASE Polonium-210 as a Poison

Dawson, Fred Mr Fred.Dawson199 at mod.uk
Tue Mar 6 05:27:24 CST 2007

>From the HPA:-

For your information the following Press Release will be published on
our website this morning.
Press Office (Centre for Radiation, Chemical and Environmental Hazards)
Health Protection Agency
OX11 0RQ
Telephone: (01235) 822744/5
Fax: (01235) 822746
Email: chilton.pressoffice at hpa.org.uk
Website:  http://www.hpa.org.uk <http://www.hpa.org.uk/> 
Polonium-210 as a Poison

The Health Protection Agency's radiation protection experts together
with colleagues from research laboratories in the USA have published a
paper in the Journal of Radiological Protection1 on how polonium-210
acts as a poison in the body. Although the unfortunate death of Mr
Litvinenko in London last year stimulated this work, the paper does not
examine the particular circumstances of his death. Instead the authors
review published scientific evidence accumulated over decades about the
biological behaviour of polonium-210 and its deleterious effects at high
doses, and they estimate how much would have to be consumed to give a
lethal dose.

The authors conclude that polonium-210 ingestion of 1-3 GBq or more is
likely to lead to death within a few weeks, assuming 10% absorption to
blood (0.1 - 0.3 GBq). On reaching the bloodstream, it would be rapidly
deposited in major organs and tissues including the liver, kidneys and
bone marrow. The intense alpha radiation within these tissues would
result in massive destruction of living cells, leading to a rapid
decline in health. Anyone receiving such doses would show symptoms of
acute radiation sickness syndrome, and death would eventually result
from multiple organ failure. Remedial medical treatment strategies are
unlikely to be successful once significant amounts of polonium-210 have
entered the blood stream and deposited in tissues, within a few hours of

This conclusion arises primarily from an expert assessment of available
experimental data, supported by human data on the biological behaviour
of polonium-210 and on effects of external radiation. There is only
limited information on effects of polonium-210 in humans; the data from
the Litvinenko case are not currently available because they are part of
a criminal investigation. 

Dr Roger Cox, Director of the Agency's Centre for Radiation, Chemical
and Environmental Hazards said, "The tragic death of Mr Litvinenko in
London brought the attention of the world to polonium-210. Although it
is widespread in the environment in minute quantities and is familiar to
most radiation scientists, the use of polonium-210 as a poison is
unprecedented in our experience. This paper is an expert review of the
available scientific data on polonium-210 and estimates what is a lethal

Press enquiries: telephone (01235) 822744, (01235) 822745 or (01235)


1 J Harrison, R Leggett, D Lloyd, A Phipps and B Scott (2007).
Polonium-210 as a Poison. J. Radiol. Prot. 27 pp 17-40.   Abstract
available on line at http://www.iop..org/EJ/abstract/0952-4746/27/1/001

Notes for Editors

1.      The paper is accompanied by an editorial entitled, "The
Polonium-210 Poisoning in London" by Dr John Stather, a Deputy Director
of CRCE. This describes some of the public health and radiation
protection measures that had to be instigated by the Health Protection
Agency following the discovery that Mr Litvinenko's death was due to
Po-210 poisoning http://www.iop.org/EJ/abstract/0952-4746/27/1/E02.
For more information on the measures taken see the updates on the HPA
website at http://www.hpa.org.uk <http://www.hpa.org.uk/>  
2.       The Journal of Radiological Protection is published by
Institute of Physics Publishing (see http://www.iop.org/) and is the
house journal of the UK's Society for Radiological Protection (see
http://www.srp-uk.org/). The SRP was founded in 1963 and is the
Scientific Society in the UK that covers the whole field of radiological
protection. It has nearly 2000 national and international members, who
are professionally concerned with safety aspects of the use of ionising
and non-ionising radiation in education, central and local government,
industry, medicine and research. 
3.      The Institute of Physics is a scientific membership organisation
devoted to increasing the understanding and application of physics. It
has an extensive worldwide membership (currently over 35,000) and is a
leading communicator of physics with all audiences from specialists
through government to the general public. Its publishing company, IOP
Publishing, is a world leader in scientific publishing and the
electronic dissemination of physics.

Fred Dawson

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