Radioactive contamination found across London

Radioactivity thought to come from the poison ingested by former spy Alexander Litvienenko has contaminated at least 24 London locations, raising health and safety concerns.

A former spy for the Russian secret service, Mr Litvinenko died last week following poisoning with the radioactive isotope polonium-210.

His ordeal left a radioactive trail that stretches from British Airways planes to the toilets of the Millenium Hotel where he attended a business meeting prior to falling ill, and Itsu sushi bar where he had lunch later that day.

Police are now using the trail to trace the movements of Mr Litvinenko’s presumed murderers. Polonium-210 has been found at 12 locations and radiactive substances, including the by-products of Po-210, in a total of 24 locations around the capital.

The Health Protection Agency is monitoring people who came into contact with Mr Litvinenko while he was in hospital, and British airways have also contacted 33,000 passengers who travelled on the contaminated planes.

But public health risks are thought to be low, according to the Health Protection Agency.

Professor Pat Troop, CEO of the Health Protection Agency, said: “Normal hygiene and cleanliness practices in hospitals should have reduced the likelihood of any significant intake by NHS staff and others and therefore any radiation hazard.”

“Nevertheless it is prudent to monitor as a precaution those people who came into direct and close contact with Mr Litvinenko to ensure there has been no cross contamination – Agency staff are meeting with these people urgently.

“Other people would not be exposed to radiation simply through being near to Mr Litvinenko. There would be a potential radiological hazard to people who could have ingested or breathed in the contaminated body fluids, but this hazard is likely to be restricted to those who have had very close contact with Mr Litvinenko.”

Polonium-210 is only harmful if it enters the body by inhalation, ingestion or through a wound, as it harms the body by emitting alpha radiation which is not highly penetrative and does not travel very far.

The substance occurs naturally, and is used industrially in anti-static devices and is present in the environment in very low concentrations, but if it comes into contact with tissue in high doses it can cause irreversible damage to bodily organs.

Goska Romanowicz

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