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Polonium-210 Public Health Investigation

Polonium-210 radiation syndrome


On November 1, 2006, Alexander Litvinenko suddenly fell ill and was hospitalized. He died three weeks later, becoming the first known victim of lethal polonium-210 induced acute radiation syndrome. The Health Protection Agency (HPA) found significant amounts of this rare and toxic element in his body.

Polonium is a highly radioactive metalloid and is unstable. The main hazard is its intense radioactivity, which makes it very difficult to handle safely - one gram of Polonium will self-heat to a temperature of around 500°C. Particles emitted by it will damage organic tissue easily if polonium is ingested, inhaled, or absorbed.

After Mr Litvinenko's death, the HPA gave advice about health issues surrounding possible exposure of members of the public. The HPA carried out an extensive monitoring programme of people who had been in places identified by the police as being contaminated. Testing was carried out upon more than 700 individuals after traces of radiation were found at 5 locations around London, including the Sheraton Park Lane Hotel and a sushi restaurant.

Much of the detail surrounding the contamination incident remains unknown and is the subject of an ongoing investigation by the Health & Safety Executive. Innocent members of the public and medical staff who nursed Mr. Litvinenko were unwittingly exposed to polonium 210 at work. Many are understandably extremely concerned about possible future adverse health effects they may suffer, even if the HPA testing has not revealed any immediate concerns.

Irwin Mitchell have been consulted by members of the public who have been exposed to this radioactive agent and are advising in connection with the possibility of claiming compensation.

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