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Sunday, January 14, 2007

Puffing on Polonium




An alarming article from the New York Times recently, revealed yet more to concern us...or should. When the former K.G.B. agent Alexander V. Litvinenko was found to have been poisoned by radioactive polonium 210 last week, there was one group that must have been particularly horrified: the tobacco industry.

The industry has been aware at least since the 1960s that cigarettes contain significant levels of polonium.

How much polonium is in tobacco? In 1968, the American Tobacco Company began a secret research effort to find out. Using precision analytic techniques, the researchers found that smokers inhale an average of about .04 picocuries of polonium 210 per cigarette.

Is it therefore really correct to say, as Britain’s Health Protection Agency did this week, that the risk of having been exposed to this substance remains low? That statement might be true for whatever particular supplies were used to poison Mr. Litvinenko, but consider also this: London’s smokers (and those Londoners exposed to secondhand smoke), taken as a group, probably inhale more polonium 210 on any given day than the former spy ingested with his sushi.

The tobacco industry of course doesn’t like to have attention drawn to the more exotic poisons in tobacco smoke. Arsenic, cyanide and nicotine, bad enough. But radiation? As more people learn more about the secrets hidden in the golden leaf, it may become harder for the industry to align itself with candy and coffee — and harder to maintain, as we often hear in litigation, that the dangers of tobacco have long been “common knowledge.” I suspect that even some of our more enlightened smokers will be surprised to learn that cigarette smoke is radioactive, and that these odd fears spilling from a poisoned K.G.B. man may be molehills compared with our really big cancer mountains.

1 comment:

Tom Dennen said...

Hi,

The New York Times was the only American paper to run the polonium story. It ran in two South African publications and that's it.

The UK Public Health Department pulled two TV ads warning about polonium in cigarettes and went all over the North Country taking back BEER MATS warning of polonium.

Conspiracy anyone?

Spread the word, please!

SMOKERS – YOU ARE INHALING THE SAME RADIOACTIVE POISON THAT KILLED RUSSIAN EX-SPY ALEXANDER LITVINENKO!

By Tom Dennen

When Did Governments (and tobacco companies) Know About Polonium 210 and How Long Have They Known?

Polonium 210 is found in trace amounts in cigarette smoke and is the major reason it causes cancer in tobacco smokers.

Robert N. Proctor, Ph.D., in "Puffing on Polonium" (New York Times, 1 December 2006), says, "When the former K.G.B. agent Alexander V. Litvinenko was found to have been poisoned by radioactive polonium 210 last week, there was one group that must have been particularly horrified: the tobacco industry. The industry has been aware at least since the 1960s that cigarettes contain significant levels of polonium.

“Exactly how it gets into tobacco is not entirely understood,” he added, “but uranium ‘daughter products’ naturally present in soils seem to be selectively absorbed by the tobacco plant, where they decay into radioactive polonium.

High-phosphate fertilizers may worsen the problem, since uranium tends to associate with phosphates. In 1975, Philip Morris scientists wondered whether the secret to tobacco growers’ longevity in the Caucasus might be that farmers there avoided phosphate fertilizers.”

Customers at a restaurant and a hotel visited by the poisoned ex-KGB officer Alexander Litvinenko will be tested for the radioactive substance that killed him, Polonium 210, said British health chiefs last week.

Polonium 210 is the only component of cigarette smoke that has produced cancers by itself in laboratory animals by inhalation - tumors appear at a level FIVE TIMES LOWER than the dose to a heavy smoker.

SCIENTISTS KNEW BY 1960

Lung cancer rates among American men kept climbing from a rarity in 1930 (4/100,000 per year) to the No. 1 cancer killer in 1980 (72/100,000) in spite of an almost 20 percent reduction in smoking through anti-smoking information campaigns. But during the same period, the level of polonium 210 in American tobacco had tripled. This coincided with the increase in the use of phosphate fertilizers by tobacco.

(From Lenntech Water treatment & air purification Holding B.V. Rotterdamseweg 402 M):

As radon decays, its electrically charged daughter products (including Polonium 210) attach themselves to dust particles, which adhere to the sticky hairs on the underside of tobacco leaves. This leaves a deposit of radioactive polonium and lead on the leaves. Then, the intense localized heat in the burning tip of a cigarette volatilizes the radioactive metals. While cigarette filters can trap chemical carcinogens, they are ineffective against radioactive vapors.

The lungs of a chronic smoker end up with a radioactive lining in a concentration much higher than from residential radon.

These particles, including Polonium 210, emit radiation.

Smoking two packs of cigarettes a day imparts a radiation dose by Polonium 210-emitted alpha particles of about 1,300 millirem per year. For comparison, the annual radiation dose to the average American from inhaled radon is 200 mrem.

In addition, polonium 210 is soluble and is circulated through the body to every tissue and cell in levels much higher than from residential radon. The proof is that it can be found in the blood and urine of smokers. The circulating polonium 210 causes genetic damage and early death from diseases reminiscent of early radiological pioneers: liver and bladder cancer, stomach ulcer, leukemia, cirrhosis of the liver and cardiovascular diseases.

Former United States Surgeon General C. Everett Koop stated that radioactivity, rather than tar, accounts for at least 90% of all smoking-related lung cancers. The American Center for Disease Control concluded: "Americans are exposed to far more radiation from tobacco smoke than from any other source."

Cigarette smoking accounts for 30% of all cancer deaths.

Only poor diet rivals tobacco smoke as a cause of cancer in the U.S., causing a comparable number of fatalities each year. However, the National Cancer Institute, with an annual budget of $500 million, has no active funding for research on radiation from smoking or residential radon as a cause of lung cancer, presumably to protect the public from undue fears of radiation from smoking tobacco.

Corruption, anyone?

Meanwhile, the British Health Protection Agency last week called for people who had been to the Itsu sushi restaurant or Millennium Hotel in central London on November 1 to come forward.

Its appeal came as the Conservatives indicated that they would ask the Government to make a Commons statement over the affair.

The HPA is taking "extremely seriously" concerns that other people may have been contaminated by the Polonium 210 that led to the death of Alexander Litvinenko in hospital although it made clear the risk was low.

Doctors discovered that he had somehow ingested a large dose of the radioactive substance and samples of it were later found in the hotel and restaurant.

Mr. Litvinenko, a former colonel in the Russian security services, visited both places on November 1, the day he was taken ill.

A vocal opponent of Vladimir Putin, Mr. Litvinenko, 43, claimed in a statement made public after his death that the Russian president had had him poisoned.

Scotland Yard's counter terrorism unit is investigating but has not described it as yet as murder. Foreign Office officials have passed on a request via the Russian Ambassador, Yuri Fedotov, asking authorities in Moscow to make available any information that might assist police with their enquiries.

A post-mortem examination of Mr. Litvinenko’s body has been delayed while a risk assessment is carried out to see if it is safe to perform the procedure and what precautions may be necessary.

Polonium-210 is very dangerous to handle in even tiny amounts - milligram or microgram amounts - and special equipment and strict control is necessary.

Human damage arises from the complete absorption of the alpha particle energy Polonium 210 emits, which is captured by soft tissue.

Sources maintain that it is not only a very unusual method of assassination, but also that not even fiction writers have bothered with it as a difficult-to-detect murder weapon.

Breathe…IN…

For the consideration of family & friends...

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