Murder by Radiation Poisoning: Implications for Public Health

By Miller, Charles W.; Whitcomb, Robert C. et al. | Journal of Environmental Health, June 2012 | Go to article overview

Murder by Radiation Poisoning: Implications for Public Health


Miller, Charles W., Whitcomb, Robert C., Ansari, Armin, McCurley, Carol, Nemhauser, Jeffrey B., Jones, Robert, Journal of Environmental Health


Introduction

On November 23, 2006, shortly before former Russian military intelligence officer Alexander Litvinenko died in a London hospital, authorities determined he suffered from acute radiation syndrome after ingestion of Polonium-210 ([sup.210]Po). The Metropolitan Police immediately began a criminal investigation.

As a rule, public health authorities do not actively participate in criminal investigations, let alone any that involve a targeted attack resulting in a single homicide. But the unique nature of the weapon used to kill Mr. Litvinenko put many people at risk--people who had nothing to do with the crime. [sup.210]Po is very deadly, and it very easily becomes airborne (Roessler, 2007). If [sup.210]Po is released into the environment, the contamination quickly spreads to surrounding areas. The body takes in [sup.210]Po by ingestion, inhalation, or absorption though skin; thus [sup.210]Po can find its way into virtually all body excreta, including perspiration (Harrison, Leggett, Lloyd, Phipps, & Scott, 2007). People internally contaminated with [sup.210]Po can therefore spread it to anything they or their excreta contact.

In fact, a London Telegraph article reported that the authorities declared Mr. Litvinenko's body a major environmental hazard and held it for two weeks. The body was only released in a sealed casket provided by the United Kingdom Health Protection Agency (HPA). The family was told that if they were to cremate Mr. Litvinenko's remains, they would have to wait for 28 years, until all the radioactivity in the body decayed to safe levels--nearly 80 half-lives of [sup.210]Po (Volodarsky, 2009).

In the days following Mr. Litvinenko's death, the Metropolitan Police used technical experts to track the locations visited by "persons of interest" in the case. The alleged perpetrators stayed in three different hotels and, during their apparent rehearsals of the murder, carried containers of [sup.210]Po to several different public places. Many of these locations showed detectable traces of [sup.210]Po contamination. Investigators initially designated the locations as crime scenes and scoured them for evidence. But more locations than just the crime scenes showed evidence of contamination. Public areas such as hallways, restrooms, and gathering places of various types were also contaminated with [sup.210]Po.

After the Metropolitan Police investigators completed their forensic examination of a site, they released it to HPA for further evaluation (Bailey et al., 2010). HPA, in turn, assumed responsibility for environmental monitoring of all public locations where contamination was positively identified and for taking actions to keep that contamination from spreading (e.g., closing restrooms, painting walls, removing furniture). HPA was also charged with identifying members of the public who had inadvertently come in contact with [sup.210]Po. Eventually, authorities found [sup.210]Po in

* the two hospitals where Mr. Litvinenko was treated,

* various business offices in London,

* coffee bars and nightclubs,

* a football (soccer) stadium,

* airplanes,

* automobiles, and

* three hotels.

Thus what began as a targeted, [sup.210]Po poisoning attack mushroomed into a radiological dispersal incident. A "dirty" bomb is the most commonly feared form of radiological dispersion, where detonation of a conventional explosive device releases radioactive materials into the environment. Here, [sup.210]Po dispersed into many areas of London became, in effect, a nonexplosive "dirty" bomb.

Methods

As noted, one of HPA's major responsibilities was to identify persons contaminated with [sup.210]Po. To do so they interviewed many people who worked in or visited locations of interest, such as hospital workers who attended Mr. Litvinenko. They also released carefully worded public statements designed to educate, to alleviate concerns, and to alert persons believed at increased risk for contamination. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Murder by Radiation Poisoning: Implications for Public Health
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Author Advanced search

    Oops!

    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.