The effects of polonium poisoning

Following Al Jazeera‘s report that Yasser Arafat may have been killed by polonium poisoning, I thought it was worth reviewing some of the scientific literature on this subject.

In the World Journal of Nuclear Medicine 2007, Vol 6, Number 2, p. 102-106, Alan C Perkins, Professor of Medical Physics at the University of Nottingham, describes the effects on ingesting polonium-210:

Human data on the biological effects of Po-210 are limited (2,3). There are a few recorded events implicating the toxic nature of polonium poisoning starting with the death of Nobus Yamada in 1927 after working with polonium in Marie Curie’s lab. Irene Curie died of leukaemia in 1956. During World War II Dr Robert Fink of the University of Rochester gave Po-210 water to a patient with myeloid leukaemia and 4 others as part of a medical experiment. The cancer patient died the other 5 individuals survived. In the years following the Second World War physicist Dror Sedah working with Po-210 on Israel’s nuclear program reported widespread contamination on everything he touched in his lab and his home. One of his students subsequently died of leukaemia. There is one reported case of a Russian male worker who accidentally inhaled an aerosol estimated to contain approximately 530MBq of Po-210. The total retention was estimated as being approximately 100MBq, with 13.3MBq in the lungs,4.5MBq in the kidneys and 21MBq in the liver. At the time of admission to hospital 2 to 3 days after ingestion the patient had a fever and severe vomiting, but no diarrhea. He died after 13 days. Anyone receiving such doses would show symptoms of acute radiation sickness syndrome with bone marrow failure. About 5% of Po-210 reaching the blood will be deposited in the bones. Subsequent damage to the liver and kidneys will contribute to death from multiple organ failure. Remedial medical treatment strategies are considered to be unsuccessful within a few hours of ingestion, once significant amounts of Po-210 have entered the blood stream and deposited in tissues.

Weight for weight Po-210 is a million times more toxic than hydrogen cyanide. A microgram, (no larger than a speck of dust), would deliver a fatal dose of radiation. The maximum safe body burden of Po-210 is only seven picograms. Following ingestion Po-210 has a biological half-life of 50 days. Approximately 10% is absorbed from the gut into the blood. Once within the bloodstream it is rapidly deposited in major organs and tissues including the liver, kidneys and bone marrow as well as the skin and hair follicles (Figure 2). Approximately 5% is deposited in bone. The intense alpha radiation within these tissues results in massive destruction of cells, leading to a rapid decline in health. Animal studies have shown that 0.1-0.3GBq or greater of Po-210 absorbed into the blood of an adult male is likely to be fatal within 1 month (2). This corresponds to ingestion of 1-3GBq or greater assuming 10% gastrointestinal absorption to blood. Remedial medical treatments are considered unhelpful within a few hours following ingestion!

2. Harrison J, Leggett R, Lloyd D, Phipps A, Scott B.Polonium-210 as a Poison. J Radiol Prot 2007; 27:17-40.
3. Kaplan K, Maugh TH. Polonium-210’s quiet trail of death. assessments_ poloniumarticle.php

Figure 2 . Diagram showing the metabolic pathway of Po-210 following ingestion.

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4 thoughts on “The effects of polonium poisoning

  1. Norman

    My my, now if this turns out to be true, just who would be the suspect? Any guesses on the subject, anyone?

  2. dickerson3870

    RE: “… just who would be the suspect?” ~ Norman

    SEE: “If Arafat were still alive”, by Uri Avnery,, 1/30/07

    [EXCERPT] . . . Just before he died last month, Uri Dan, Ariel Sharon’s loyal mouthpiece for almost 50 years, published a book in France. It includes a report of a conversation Sharon told him about, with President Bush. Sharon asked for permission to kill Arafat and Bush gave it to him, with the proviso that it must be done undetectably. When Dan asked Sharon whether it had been carried out, Sharon answered: “It’s better not to talk about that.” Dan took this as confirmation.
    The secret services of many countries have poisons that are all but undetectable. Ten years ago, Mossad tried to kill Khaled Mashal, the Hamas leader, in broad daylight on a thoroughfare in Amman. He was saved only when the Israeli government was compelled to provide the antidote to the poison it had used. Viktor Yushchenko, the president of Ukraine, was poisoned and saved only when the symptoms were identified by experts in time.
    Is there proof Arafat was murdered by Israeli or other agents? No, there is none. This week I again ran into Zahalka, and both of us concluded that the suspicion is growing stronger . . .


  3. dickerson3870

    RE: “Uri Dan. . . published a book. . . It includes a report of a conversation Sharon told him about, with President Bush. Sharon asked for permission to kill Arafat and Bush gave it to him, with the proviso that it must be done undetectably.” ~ Uri Avnery (above)

    ALSO SEE: “Sharon won’t rule out attack on Arafat”, by The Associated Press, 4/23/04

    (excerpt) JERUSALEM (AP) — Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said Friday he is no longer bound by a promise to President Bush not to harm Yasser Arafat — the strongest sign yet that Israel could target the jittery Palestinian leader.
    In an interview with Israel TV’s Channel Two, Sharon said he told Bush about his change of position in a meeting in Washington last week.
    Sharon did not elaborate or say how Bush responded. . .


  4. dickerson3870

    RE: “… just who would be the suspect?” ~ Norman

    ALSO SEE: “Who Killed Yasser Arafat? Now we know he was poisoned – but by whom?”, by Justin Raimondo,, 7/04/12

    [EXCERPT] Yasser Arafat died on November 11, 2004, of a mysterious ailment. His enemies spread the rumor he had AIDS: David Frum, with typical classiness, claimed he had contracted AIDS as a consequence of having sex with his bodyguards. Now, however, it has been revealed Arafat was poisoned: the cause of his death was exposure to very high levels of polonium-210, a rare radioactive substance. An investigation conducted by Al Jazeera showed Arafat’s personal items, released to the media organization by his widow, contained several times the normal level of polonium that would normally be detected on such items. The Palestinian leader’s terminal symptoms were similar to those experienced by victims of polonium poisoning: the substance targets the gastrointestinal tract and the subject wastes away.
    Arafat’s Ramallah compound had been bombed several times by the Israelis, and they had the place surrounded – yet still he persisted. They couldn’t get him out. Worse, his plight was becoming a metaphor for the condition of his people, who were – and still are – prisoners in their own land. A former adviser claimed he was poisoned by the Israelis, who detained the Palestinian ambulance used to deliver Arafat’s medications to the Ramallah compound. At the time, one tended to write this off as a purely polemical exercise: in light of the new evidence, however, the question has to be asked.
    Simply by continuing to exist in the face of such a sustained assault, Arafat was defeating the Israelis every day. They had to get rid of him. Did they? We’ll never know for sure, but it is worth noting that Israeli threats to kill him preceded his untimely death by less than a year. As is well-known, Israeli intelligence has carried out numerous assassinations: it is simply another tool in their international operations, one they have never hesitated to utilize. . .


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