Britain Asks 48 Nations To Help Test For Polonium
Friday, January 12, 2007
LONDON, Jan. 11 -- British authorities are working with officials from 48 countries to evaluate about 450 people who were in London around Nov. 1 and fear they might have been exposed to the radioactive polonium-210 that killed former Russian agent Alexander Litvinenko.
Britain's Health Protection Agency declined to identify the countries, but the United States is among them, according to U.S. health officials. People who think they might have been exposed are invited to submit urine samples and consult with doctors; for most, the exposure appears to have been harmlessly small.
Litvinenko died Nov. 23 at a London hospital of polonium-210 poisoning. Police have since found traces of polonium at 17 locations in London, most prominently the Pine Bar at the Millennium Hotel and the Itsu sushi restaurant in central London, both of which Litvinenko visited Nov. 1. The two locations remain closed to the public.
At the hotel and the popular sushi restaurant, many others, including visitors from abroad, could have come into contact with the radiation, officials said. Other affected locations include office buildings in central London, the Sheraton Park Lane Hotel, a Best Western hotel on Shaftesbury Avenue and several London area hospitals where Litvinenko was treated before he died.
Any health risk remains extremely low to those who happened to walk by or be seated near Litvinenko or otherwise cross paths with the radiation trail his poisoning left behind, health officials said.
The Health Protection Agency announced Thursday that urine tests indicated that 103 people in Britain had had "probable contact" with polonium-210 but that their levels were so low it was "no health concern to the individual." In all, nearly 600 people were tested because they feared they were contaminated. Thirteen people "received doses which are not significant enough to result in any illness in the short term," and long-term risk was "likely to be very small," health officials said.
The 13 are Litvinenko's wife, Marina; a staff member at the Sheraton; a staff member of the Best Western; two guests at the Millennium Pine Bar; and eight employees of the Millennium, a health official said.
The amount of contamination in Litvinenko's body was "many thousands of times greater" than that of anyone else who had tested positive for polonium-210, the head of the health agency, Pat Troop, told reporters.
Litvinenko met with two Russians, Andrei Lugovoy and Dmitry Kovtun, at the Pine Bar on Nov. 1; both have been treated in Moscow for radiation exposure. Scotland Yard detectives flew to Moscow and interviewed the two men; both have denied any involvement in the poisoning.
German officials announced last month that they were investigating Kovtun on charges of illegal handling of a radioactive substance. Prosecutors said they found traces of radioactivity at sites in Hamburg visited by Kovtun before he met with Litvinenko.
Litvinenko also met an Italian, Mario Scaramella, on Nov. 1 at Itsu. While initial tests indicated he had been contaminated, he has since been cleared of having any polonium-210 in his system. When he returned to Rome on Dec. 24, he was arrested by Italian police on charges unrelated to the poisoning, and he remains in jail.