Monday, December 04, 2006
Polonium and You
On Friday morning I was shown into a radiation lab, and, wearing no goggles, gloves or other special protection, held a vial containing a tiny sample of polonium 210, the chemical believed to have killed former Russian spy Alexander Litvinenko. It's Monday morning, and I'm still OK.
The intrigue of espionage has brought public awareness to a substance that has been around for over 100 years, but had yet to be cause for public panic. If you are one of the many out there worried about polonium 210 showing up somewhere near you, perhaps the following info will help calm your nerves.
The most important thing to remember about polonium 210 and other alpha emitters is that basic hygiene can save your life! An alpha emitter can do damage only if it gets into your system. The same is true for the flu, salmonella and numerous viruses. Washing your hands remains your first line of defense.
And about those traces found on commercial airlines - Dr. Cham E. Dallas, director of the University of Georgia's Center for Mass Destruction Defense, says not to worry. In fact, there are very small amounts of it all around us - in the in the soil, in the atmosphere... and even in the human body. In extremely low levels, natural traces of polonium 210 can be found just about everywhere.
With that said, it is also important to know that there are very tight government protections on the extraction of polonium. The substance is produced in large quantities generally for the production of nuclear weapons. As a result, in the United States this is not a substance that just anybody can get his or her hands on.
After a full week of researching the topic, I feel confident in saying that, of the many potentially deadly things we civilians have to worry about, polonium 210 should not be one of them. To learn more on how polonium 210 was used on Alexander Litvinenko, be sure to watch Anderson Cooper 360 tonight at 10 p.m. ET
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