Polonium Poisoning and the Plant

Alexander Litvinenko was a former Russian spy who fled Russian prosecution and gained political asylum in the United Kingdom.

Mr. Litvinenko accused Vladimir Putin of various terrorist acts against the Russian people in his rise to power.

On Nov. 1st, 2006, Litvinenko suddenly became sick and was hospitalized. Mr. Litvinenko a 43-year-old health nut who often went for 10-mile runs, rarely got sick. Three weeks later he died a victim of Polonium-210 poisoning.

The estimated amount of Polonium-210, a radioactive substance, ingested by Mr. Litvinenko was about 10 micrograms (a microgram is a millionth part of a gram). Ten micrograms is smaller than a single grain of salt.

You may be thinking, “this is a sad story Dr. Howell but, what does this have to do with anything?”

It just so happens that the same compound, Polonium-210, is present in cigarette smoke.

From the epa.gov website:

While cigarette smoke is not an obvious source of radiation exposure, it contains small amounts of radioactive materials which smokers bring into their lungs as they inhale. The radioactive particles lodge in lung tissue and over time contribute a huge radiation dose. Radioactivity may be one of the key factors in lung cancer among smokers. http://www.epa.gov/radiation/sources/tobacco.html

So tobacco smoke is radioactive. And that radioactivity over a lifetime of ingestion is going to kill the smoker and those around him too.

As you can recall from the story it doesn’t take much Polonium-210 to be lethal to humans.

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