Jan 01 2007

The Polonium 210 Trail Reaches America

I am amazed that the Litvinenko story is not getting serious attention in the US or in the Europe. The media is so wedded to the possible assassination angle they have totally ignored the equally plausible, and much more disturbing possibility, of the Dirty Bomb. Ever since I began posting on this story the evidence did not sit as well with an assassination as it did a smuggling operation that went bad. Before the trail of Polonium became known, I predicted – because of the massive and immediate PR campaign that was put in place at Litvinenko’s death – the trail would lead to Boris Berezovsky. When there was only two hotels infected and tied to Lugovoi trips to London to meet Litvinenko, I said a smuggling effort would show more than one round of moving the material. Sure enough another hotel was found to be contaminated with many rooms showing signs of Polonium, and it was tied to a trip by Lugovoi to meet Litvinenko and visit some of these suspicious security firms which also show Polonium contamination.

As the evidence for a smuggling ring has grown in the UK, I wondered if and when it would show up in other countries – possible destinations of Polonium. We all know the trail later extended to Germany. But today the LA Times is reporting the Plonium trail reached the United States of America:

Since identifying polonium-210 as the poison that killed Litvinenko, investigators have found traces of it in hotel rooms, airplanes, embassy rooms and other sites in the U.S. and Europe visited by Andrei Lugovoy, a former KGB bodyguard who is considered a potential suspect in the case. Lugovoy has said he is being set up by persons unknown.

This little detail is being reported so off-handedly I cannot wonder if it is not a mistake. First off I am not aware Lugovoi visited America – but it is possible. Did the author mean Russia instead of the US? Maybe, but it is clear the FBI is involved and has been interrogating people here in the US. But if it is accurate then there should be much more news reporting on this incident and its potential implications. It means nuclear material was smuggled into the US – and that would be news.

The article is a wealth of details that establish parameters for the doses that have been seen and the possible amounts and the form of the Polonium that was smuggled through London in October. First are a series of historical incidents that resulted in death in the handing of Polonium. Key to these is how long the effects took to kill the victims:

At the height of World War II, in an isolated medical ward at the University of Rochester in New York, Dr. Robert M. Fink gave water laced with polonium-210 to a terminal cancer patient [later the reporter notes the patient volunteered for this as part of the war effort] and injected four others with the isotope. None of the five apparently died from the minute doses, though one succumbed to his cancer six days later.

The first polonium death occurred in 1927.

The victim was Nobus Yamada, a Japanese researcher in Marie Curie’s lab in France. In 1924, he worked with Curie’s daughter Irene Joliot-Curie to prepare polonium sources. After returning home the next year, Yamada fell ill.

The Curies’ daughter Irene also fell victim to the isotope. She died of leukemia in 1956, 10 years after a sealed capsule of polonium-210 was accidentally broken in her laboratory at the Radium Institute in Paris.

About the same time, scientists developing Israel’s nuclear program were exposed to its lethal effects.

The first signs of contamination were the traces of radiation on the laboratory desk of Israeli physicist Dror Sadeh. He had taken what he thought were adequate precautions against the hyperactive element.

But those precautions weren’t enough. Radiation was discovered “in my private home, and on my hands too and on everything that I touched,” he wrote in his diary.

Within a month, one student who worked in Sadeh’s lab at the Weizmann Institute of Science in Rehovot, Israel, was dead from leukemia. The lab’s supervisor died a few years later — contaminated by polonium-210 as well, Sadeh suspected.

These incidents show that exposure is not immediately lethal. It is lethal – but death can take months or years. Not that great for a assassination tool. But it also indicates Litvinenko may not have been poisoned at one incident on November 1st, but may have been accumulating his deadly dose over time. Though I still think Litvinenko did get a large dose at one critical encounter around that date. Another thing to note in the article is how easy it is to block Polonium-210 in transport but how difficult it is to handle it without it contaminating the location where it is being handled:

Unlike other radioactive elements, polonium-210 is relatively safe to transport.

“I could put it in a tiny Ziploc bag, and I would be fine,” said Dooley, president and chief executive of MJW Corp., a consulting firm in Amherst, N.Y., that specializes in radiological and health physics services.

The energy produced as it naturally disintegrates is so great that “small chunks, perhaps a few hundred atoms in size, are blasted out of the surface and then drift around the room,” Zimmerman said.

“It would tend to creep around the lab,” Dooley said. “If you had polonium in an open jar and you left it overnight, the next thing you knew, it would be all over the lab. It would jump on a dust particle and end up on lab benches and floors and things.”

Interestingly this pattern of dispersion seems to fit what was found at the three hotels. And it may be the kind of pattern scene at Berezovsky’s office, which did have multiple points with Polonium-210 contamination. It does seem that many of the locations of contamination were the result of material flaking off people trailing the material, while hotel rooms may show the more diffuse pattern. Without more details it is hard to say. But clearly the contamination sites show little evidence of an assassination. The assassin would have the Polonium-210 in a salt form which could be innocently dropped into a drink. This form would resist both the flaking off and possibly the random escape of particles on dust. The fact the more controlled form of a small amount (still a very high dose) would not seem consistent with an assassin who hoped to survive his actions.

The other information in this article to note is the dosage levels and the expected biological response:

Pound for pound, polonium-210 is at least a million times more toxic than hydrogen cyanide, the poison used to execute prisoners in gas chambers, according to medical toxicology books. Radiation safety experts calculate that a single gram of polonium could kill 50 million people and sicken another 50 million.

But it is extremely hard to get. About 100 grams — or 3 1/2 ounces — are produced each year, primarily by Russia.

A dose of the white powder smaller than a grain of salt could have been dropped into Litvinenko’s drink at the Millennium Hotel’s Pine Bar in London without altering the taste, according to chemist John Emsley of Cambridge University.

Within minutes of ingestion, the energetic particles shooting off the polonium-210 molecules began killing the cells lining Litvinenko’s gastrointestinal tract. As the cells sloughed off, they caused nausea, severe internal bleeding and enormous pain.

descriptions I saw here. But there is one symptom of Litvinenko’s case that are different – the massive inflamation of his mucus membrane areas:

Later I [Marina Litvinenko] was told that not only the mucus membranes in his mouth, but everywhere in his body were horribly inflamed and covered with blisters.

The symptoms seem to indicate Litvinenko encountered a cloud of Polonium-220, ingesting some and inhaling some. The ingested amount caused the symptoms assoiated with the vomiting, but I am of the mind the mucus membrame damage was from inhalation. If Litvinenko was exposed by a cloud of material that he ingested and inhaled, I would say that would really be a sign this was an accident in handling and not an assassination attempt. Assassins would want to control the material to make sure it only hit its intended target. That is why I think the salt form that could be added to a drink is the form an assassin would use, and prepare well before bringing the material into the UK.

In any event, if the material has been shown to have reached our shores, I think it is long past time the news media stopped obessessing with the assassination theory to shore up the biased views of Russia and Putin. This is a very serious situation and it deserves objective, honest reporting. Everyone who could be at risk if this is a smuggling effort for a dirty bomb deserves some clear heads on this matter and how it is reported.

10 responses so far

10 Responses to “The Polonium 210 Trail Reaches America”

  1. dbostan says:

    This would be very, very bad.
    However, I thought a lot about the guy who died.
    His intestinal tract broke (see how the sickness started).
    If he would have inhaled the PO-210, his lung cells would have failed first.
    This would be a major argument against the “accidental poisoning”.

  2. likbez says:

    I read somewhere (cannot find the source, so it might be a hallucination) that Lugovoy has UK refugee status. That means that he has no problems getting the US visa.

    Otherwise we need to assume that the borders are really porous as he has a criminal conviction in his native country and as such was not eligible for the USA visa.

  3. AJStrata says:


    Actually, the lungs would not have shown the same decay if he ingested more than he inhaled. The fact is the lungs and nasal passages were the last to show symptoms. I think he ran into a cloud of this stuff and swallowed a lot and breathed in quite a bit as well. He is one of the quickest deaths on record for Polonium 210.

  4. copydude says:

    I have to agree that, in any other circumstances, the media would have jumped on a story involving a possible ‘terror plot’. They’ve been making them up for years. Now there is actually clear evidence of nuclear material involving an Islamic sympathiser with a link to terrorists, the story has been dropped like a hot brick.

    The sudden acquisition of proper protective clothing and body bags by British authorities can’t be a co-incidence. Can it? And were they so hopelessly ignorant and unprepared that they had to bury this story out of political necessity?

    For the rest, I have to say I’m fascinated by the continuing scandal of Scaramella in Italy. It looks like it’s going to be Prodi’s revenge – or vendetta as the mafiaspeak in Italy has it.

    latest story

  5. copydude says:

    I also agree with those who suggested that Professor Mario picked a bad day to turn up for lunch.

    His activities didn’t bear close scrutiny at all – and all at once he was caught in Interpol’s headlights.

    Some really funny stories on Italian internet: a girl who works at the University of Naples is a ‘Maria Scaramella’ – who got his mail by mistake and thought he worked on the next floor somewhere.

  6. crosspatch says:

    In order to be sicked within hours, his dose would have had to be absolutely massive. Polonium would be used, in my opinion, when you want the target to show symptomps at some later time so you can not be sure when or how or by whom the poison was administered.

    Indications are to me that these people were involved in direct contact with polonium. They were spreading it everywhere they went for weeks.

    I believe that article is a typo and someone ment to say U.K. and Europe, not U.S. and Europe.

  7. Weight of Glory says:

    I have called Ms. Kaplen at the L.A. Times, to try to verify that she in fact meant to write U.S. and not U.K., but I was only able to leave a message. Needless to say, I won’t be waiting by the phone to see if she calls, but I’ll watch the site to see if it changes. If this has been found in the U.S. in relation to the investigation of its presence in London, then that will do it for me in determining if this was an assassination or a smuggling job. I have been waiting all this time for the presence of PO to show up in an area not required for an assassination attempt; the US would be that kind of place

  8. Carol_Herman says:

    Most doctors, filling out death certificates DON’T get the death right!

    How do I know this? I was told this by my then husband. Who was a Fellow at Montefiore. What he said was that Forensic Physicians had done a study of death certificates; and more often than not, the reporting physicians were WRONG.

    So, you’re being “told” Polonium.

    The clue, it seems, came from Litvenenko, himself. When the doctors kept repeating to him that they had “no clue.” And, they weren’t apt to find one, either.

    But Litvenenko never did give a complete picture on how he thought he “consumed” the poison. And, you don’t even know what the doctors heard him telling them.

    All you know is that he’s dead.

    You also don’t know IF he didn’t get dosed while in the hospital?


    Just because you don’t think these things are done, doesn’t mean that they don’t get done. Litvenenko was sick. And, kept getting sicker. While the doctors stood around doing lots of tests.

    Like a McGuffin.

    What started off his illness sequence?

    And, then, what finished him off?

    Can you throw in a bit of medicine that would have been counter-productive? You think not? Well, you don’t know what was injected into him, now do you?

    I can remember a young man who expired because the resident kept injecting in calcium. And, his liver was already overloaded on an over-dose. Which is what brought the guy into the emergency room.

    In other words? When you’re sick. You’re sick around the clock. But as the hours get late, who is around to treat you?

    While there is something going on where the SPOOKS have overtaken this story, completely. And, it’s now wall-to-wall junk.

    Not that you couldn’t turn this into a work of fiction!

    And, it’s not beyond impossible for our own CIA to have definitive links into the media! How do you think the CIA works these days? Remember this: Chalabi had goons trained by the CIA. Chalabi got into Iraq during the time Tommy Franks was there. And, our troops were fighting. And, Chalabi ordered his goons to loot. And, pillage. And, no one shot them down. You also remember that Judith Miller was the “prose piece of work” Chalabi had for about ten years. And, all of his drivel showed up on page one of the New Yuk Times.

    You want the truth? All you’re being given is the poop.

  9. Gotta Know says:

    I see I’m late to this party…what seems clear is that it wouldn’t take much of an “accident” for this to happen. It could have been a closing door in the viscinity of an open container of PO, or a sneeze from 5 feet away, or someone talking too close to the stuff.

    They may not have even realized there was a relatively large amount of contamination. Litvinenko may have thought he was assassinated, even though he wasn’t.

  10. Gotta Know says:

    BTW Crosspatch I agree, seems to be UK, not US.