Polonium

Polonium

Polonium (] [cite journal
author = Momoshima N., Song L.X., Osaki S.,Maeda Y.,
title = Biologically induced Po emission from fresh water
year = 2002
volume = 63
issue = 2
pages = 187–197
doi =10.1016/S0265-931X(02)00028-0
] This is similar to the way in which mercury, selenium and tellurium are methylated in living things to create organometallic compounds. As a result when considering the biochemistry of polonium one should consider the possibility that the polonium will follow the same biochemical pathways as selenium and tellurium.

Compounds

= History = Also tentatively called "Radium F", polonium was discovered by Marie Skłodowska-Curie and her husband Pierre Curie in 1898 [cite journal|author = Curie P., Curie M.|title = |journal = Comptes Rendus|year = 1898|volume=126|pages=1101] and was later named after Marie Curie's native land of Poland (Latin: "Polonia"), and not for the Hamlet character, Polonius. [cite journal
title = Borders of the Nuclear World --- 100 Years After Discovery of Polonium
author = Pfützner M.
journal = Acta Physica Polonica B
volume = 30
year = 1999
pages = 1197
issue = 5
] [cite journal
title = The centennial of the 1903 Nobel Prize for physics
volume = 91
year = 681-688
pages = 2003
doi = 10.1524/ract.91.12.681.23428
issue = 12
] Poland at the time was under Russian, Prussian, and Austrian partition, and did not exist as an independent country. It was Curie's hope that naming the element after her native land would publicize its lack of independence. Polonium may be the first element named to highlight a political controversy. [cite journal
title = Chemical and Polish aspects of polonium and radium discovery
author = Kabzinska K.
journal = Przemysl Chemiczny
volume = 77
year = 1998
pages = 104–107
issue = 3
]

This element was the first one discovered by the Curies while they were investigating the cause of pitchblende radioactivity. The pitchblende, after removal of the radioactive elements uranium and thorium, was more radioactive than both the uranium and thorium put together. This spurred the Curies on to find additional radioactive elements. The Curies first separated out polonium from the pitchblende, and then within a few years, also isolated radium.

Detection

Gamma counting

By means of radiometric methods such as gamma spectroscopy (or a method using a chemical separation followed by an activity measurement with a non-energy-dispersive counter), it is possible to measure the concentrations of radioisotopes and to distinguish one from another. In practice, background noise would be present and depending on the detector, the line width would be larger which would make it harder to identify and measure the isotope. In biological/medical work it is common to use the natural 40K present in all tissues/body fluids as a check of the equipment and as an internal standard.

Alpha counting

The best way to test for (and measure) many alpha emitters is to use alpha-particle spectroscopy as it is common to place a drop of the test solution on a metal disk which is then dried out to give a uniform coating on the disk. This is then used as the test sample. If the thickness of the layer formed on the disk is too thick then the lines of the spectrum are broadened, this is because some of the energy of the alpha particles is lost during their movement through the layer of active material. An alternative method is to use internal liquid scintillation where the sample is mixed with a scintillation cocktail. When the light emitted is then counted, some machines will record the amount of light energy per radioactive decay event. Due to the imperfections of the liquid scintillation method (such as a failure for all the photons to be detected, cloudy or coloured samples can be difficult to count) and the fact that random quenching can reduce the number of photons generated per radioactive decay it is possible to get a broadening of the alpha spectra obtained through liquid scintillation. It is likely that these liquid scintillation spectra will be subject to a Gaussian broadening rather than the distortion exhibited when the layer of active material on a disk is too thick.

A third energy dispersive method for counting alpha particles is to use a semiconductor detector.

From left to right the peaks are due to 209Po, 210Po, 239Pu and 241Am. The fact that isotopes such as 239Pu and 241Am have more than one alpha line indicates that the nucleus has the ability to be in different discrete energy levels (like a molecule can).

Occurrence and production

Polonium is a very rare element in nature because of the short half-life of all its isotopes. It is found in uranium ores at about 100 micrograms per metric ton (1 part in 1010), which is approximately 0.2% of the abundance of radium. The amounts in the Earth's crust are not harmful. Polonium has been found in tobacco smoke from tobacco leaves grown with phosphate fertilizers. [cite journal| author = Kilthau, Gustave F.|title = Cancer risk in relation to radioactivity in tobacco |journal = Radiologic Technology | volume = 67| issue = | pages = 217–222 |pim =8850254] [ [http://kidslink.bo.cnr.it/besta/fumo/epolonio.html Alpha Radioactivity (210 Polonium) and Tobacco Smoke] ] cite journal | title = Waking a Sleeping Giant: The Tobacco Industry’s Response to the Polonium-210 Issue | author = Monique E. Muggli et al. | journal = American Journal of Public Health | volume = 98 | issue = 9 | pages = 1643–1650 | year = 2008 | doi = 10.2105/AJPH.2007.130963]

Neutron capture

; Synthesis by (n,$gamma$) reaction

In 1934 an experiment showed that when natural 209Bi is bombarded with neutrons, 210Bi is created, which then decays to 210Po via β decay. The final purification is done pyrochemically followed by liquid-liquid extraction techniques. [http://pubs.acs.org/cgi-bin/archive.cgi/iepdaw/1969/8/i04/pdf/i260032a013.pdf] [http://www.freepatentsonline.com/3463739.pdf] Polonium may now be made in milligram amounts in this procedure which uses high neutron fluxes found in nuclear reactors. Only about 100 grams are produced each year, practically all of it in Russia, making polonium exceedingly rare. [http://www.rsc.org/chemistryworld/News/2006/November/27110601.asp RSC Chemistry World Q&A] [ [http://www.sptimesrussia.com/index.php?action_id=2&story_id=20100 The St. Petersburg Times - News - Most Polonium Made Near the Volga River ] ]

Proton capture

;Synthesis by (p, n) and (p,2n) reactions

It has been found that the longer-lived isotopes of polonium can be formed by proton bombardment of bismuth using a cyclotron. Other more neutron rich isotopes can be formed by the irradiation of platinum with carbon nuclei. [cite journal| author = Atterling, H., Forsling, W.|title = Light Polonium Isotopes from Carbon Ion Bombardments of Platinum |journal = Arkiv for Fysik | volume = 15| issue = 1 | pages = 81–88 |year = 1959|url =http://www.osti.gov/energycitations/product.biblio.jsp?osti_id=4238755]

Applications

When it is mixed or alloyed with beryllium, polonium can be a neutron source: beryllium releases a neutron upon absorption of an alpha particle that is supplied by 210Po. It has been used in this capacity as a neutron trigger or initiator for nuclear weapons. [Rhodes, Richard. Dark Sun: The Making of the Hydrogen Bomb. New York: Walker & Company, 2002. 187-188.] Other uses include the following.
*Devices that eliminate static charges in textile mills and other places. [ [http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/england/1868414.stm BBC News | England | College breaches radioactive regulations ] ] However, beta particle sources are more commonly used and are less dangerous. A non-radioactive alternative is to use a high-voltage DC power supply to ionise air positively or negatively as required. [http://www.thermo.com/eThermo/CMA/PDFs/Articles/articlesFile_16929.pdf]
*210Po can be used as an atomic heat source to power radioisotope thermoelectric generators via thermoelectric materials.Fact|date=May 2008
*Because of its very high toxicity, polonium can be used as a poison (see, for example, Alexander Litvinenko poisoning).
*Polonium is also used to get rid of dust on film. [Emsley, John. Nature's Building Blocks. New York: Oxford University Press, 2001. 331.]

Toxicity

Overview

By mass, polonium-210 is around 250,000 times more toxic than hydrogen cyanide (the actual LD50 for 210Po is about 1 microgram for an 80 kg person (see below) compared with about 250 milligrams for hydrogen cyanide [ [http://www.physchem.ox.ac.uk/MSDS/HY/hydrogen_cyanide.html Hydrogen cyanide msds] ] ). The main hazard is its intense radioactivity (as an alpha emitter), which makes it very difficult to handle safely: one gram of Po will self-heat to a temperature of around convert|500|°C|°F. Even in microgram amounts, handling 210Po is extremely dangerous, requiring specialized equipment and strict handling procedures. Alpha particles emitted by polonium will damage organic tissue easily if polonium is ingested, inhaled, or absorbed (though they do not penetrate the epidermis and hence are not hazardous if the polonium is outside the body).

Acute effects

The median lethal dose (LD50) for acute radiation exposure is generally about 4.5 Sv. [http://www.pnl.gov/main/publications/external/technical_reports/PNNL-14424.pdf Health Impacts from Acute Radiation Exposure ] ] The committed effective dose equivalent 210Po is 0.51 µSv/Bq if ingested, and 2.5 µSv/Bq if inhaled. [http://hpschapters.org/northcarolina/NSDS/210PoPDF.pdf Nuclide Safety Data Sheet: Polonium–210] ] Since 210Po has an activity of 166 TBq (4486.5 Ci) per gram (1 gram produces 166×1012 decays per second), a fatal 4.5 Sv (J/kg) dose can be caused by ingesting 8.8 MBq (238 microcuries), about 50 nanograms (ng), or inhaling 1.8 MBq (48 microcuries), about 10 ng. One gram of 210Po could thus in theory poison 20 million people of whom 10 million would die. The actual toxicity of 210Po is lower than these estimates, because radiation exposure that is spread out over several weeks (the biological half-life of polonium in humans is 30 to 50 days [ [http://www.osti.gov/energycitations/product.biblio.jsp?osti_id=7162390 Effective half-life of polonium in the human] ] ) is somewhat less damaging than an instantaneous dose. It has been estimated that a median lethal dose of 210Po is 0.015 GBq (0.4 millicuries), or 0.089 micrograms, still an extremely small amount. [http://nuclearweaponarchive.org/News/PoloniumPoison.html Polonium Poisoning ] ] [See also [http://www.iop.org/EJ/abstract/0952-4746/27/1/001 "Polonium-210 as a poison"] . "The conclusion is reached that 0.1–0.3 GBq or more absorbed to blood of an adult male is likely to be fatal within 1 month. This corresponds to ingestion of 1–3 GBq or more, assuming 10% absorption to blood".]

Long term (chronic) effects

In addition to the acute effects, radiation exposure (both internal and external) carries a long-term risk of death from cancer of 5–10% per Sv. The general population is exposed to small amounts of polonium as a radon daughter in indoor air; the isotopes 214Po and 218Po are thought to cause the majority [ [http://fermat.nap.edu/openbook.php?record_id=1026&page=5 National Academy of Sciences 1988 report "Health Risks of Radon and Other Internally Deposited Alpha-Emitters: BEIR IV", page 5] ] of the estimated 15,000-22,000 lung cancer deaths in the US every year that have been attributed to indoor radon. [ [http://newton.nap.edu/html/beir6/ National Academy of Sciences 1999 report "Health Effects Of Exposure To Indoor Radon"] ] Tobacco smoking causes additional exposure to Po. [ [http://www.straightdope.com/columns/070928.html The Straight Dope "Does smoking organically grown tobacco lower the chance of lung cancer?"] ]

Regulatory exposure limits

The maximum allowable body burden for ingested 210Po is only 1.1 kBq (30 nCi), which is equivalent to a particle massing only 6.8 picograms. The maximum permissible workplace concentration of airborne 210Po is about 10 Bq/m3 (3 × 10−10 µCi/cm³). [ [http://www.nrc.gov/reading-rm/doc-collections/cfr/part020/appb/Polonium-210.html Nuclear Regulatory Commission limits for 210Po] ] The target organs for polonium in humans are the spleen and liver. [ [http://www.pilgrimwatch.org/health1.html PilgrimWatch - Pilgrim Nuclear - Health Impact ] ] As the spleen (150 g) and the liver (1.3 to 3 kg) are much smaller than the rest of the body, if the polonium is concentrated in these vital organs, it is a greater threat to life than the dose which would be suffered (on average) by the whole body if it were spread evenly throughout the body, in the same way as caesium or tritium (as T2O).

210Po is widely used in industry, and readily available with little regulation or restriction. In the US, a tracking system run by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission will be implemented in 2007 to register purchases of more than convert|16|Ci of polonium 210 (enough to make up 5,000 lethal doses). The IAEA "is said to be considering tighter regulations... There is talk that it might tighten the polonium reporting requirement by a factor of 10, to convert|1.6|Ci."Cite web|url=http://www.nytimes.com/2006/12/19/opinion/19zimmerman.html|title=The Smoky Bomb Threat|accessdate=2006-12-19|publisher=The New York Times|year=2006|author=Peter D. Zimmerman]

Famous poisoning cases

Notably, the murder of Alexander Litvinenko, a Russian dissident, in 2006 was announced as due to 210Po poisoning [cite news | title=The mystery of Litvinenko's death |url=http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk/6180432.stm | date=24 November 2006 | publisher=BBC News] [http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk/6698545.stm UK requests Lugovoi extradition] BBC News] (see Alexander Litvinenko poisoning). According to Nick Priest, a radiation expert speaking on Sky News on December 2, Litvinenko was probably the first person ever to die of the acute α-radiation effects of 210Po. [cite news |title=Focus: Cracking the code of the nuclear assassin |url=http://www.timesonline.co.uk/article/0,,2087-2484295_1,00.html] The [http://www.thepoloniumrestaurant.co.uk/ Polonium Restaurant] (a Polish restaurant in Sheffield, England, owned by Boguslaw Sidorowicz and named after his folk band in the late 1970s) experienced increases business as a result of internet searches on the collocation "polonium restaurant". [cite news
title = Restaurant Polonium: In Sheffield klingeln die Kassen
work = Die Zeit
language = German
publisher = ZEIT online GmbH
date = 2006-12-05
url = http://www.zeit.de/news/artikel/2006/12/05/83406.xml
accessdate = 2008-06-06
] [cite news
title = Business booming at Polonium restaurant in English city, manager says
work = International Herald Tribune
date = 2006-12-01
url = http://www.iht.com/articles/ap/2006/12/01/europe/EU_GEN_Britain_Polonium_Restaurant.php
accessdate = 2008-06-06
] [cite news
title = Why 'Polonium Restaurant' in UK is a hit
work = The Times of India
date = 2006-12-05
url = http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/articleshow/712529.cms
]

It has also been suggested that Irène Joliot-Curie was the first person ever to die from the radiation effects of polonium (due to a single intake) in 1956. [Innocent chemical a killer - The Daily Telegraph (of Australia), December 4, 2006 [http://www.news.com.au/dailytelegraph/story/0,22049,20863878-5001031,00.html] ] She was accidentally exposed to polonium in 1946 when a sealed capsule of the element exploded on her laboratory bench. A decade later, on 17 March 1956, she died in Paris from leukemia which may or may not have been caused by that exposure.

According to the book "The Bomb in the Basement", several death cases in Israel during 1957-1969 were caused by 210Po. [cite book
last = Karpin
first = Michael
title = The bomb in the basement: How Israel went nuclear and what that means for the world
publisher = Simon and Schuster
date = 2006
id = ISBN 0743265947
] A leak was discovered at a Weizmann Institute laboratory in 1957. Traces of 210Po were found on the hands of Prof. Dror Sadeh, a physicist who researched radioactive materials. Medical tests indicated no harm, but the tests did not include bone marrow. Sadeh died from cancer. One of his students died of leukemia, and two colleagues died after a few years, both from cancer. The issue was investigated secretly, and there was never any formal admission that a connection between the leak and the deaths had existed.cite news | first=Thomas | last=Maugh | coauthors= Karen Kaplan | title=A restless killer radiates intrigue | date=2007-01-01 | publisher= | url =http://articles.latimes.com/2007/jan/01/science/sci-polonium1 | work =Los Angeles Times | pages = | accessdate = 2008-09-17 | language = ]

Treatment

It has been suggested that chelation agents such as British Anti-Lewisite (dimercaprol) can be used to decontaminate humans. [ [http://www.osti.gov/energycitations/product.biblio.jsp?osti_id=4426335] 9 also see NRCP Report No. 65: Management of Persons Accidentally Contaminated With Radionuclides] [http://www.fda.gov/cder/Guidance/6983fnl.pdf] In one experiment, rats were given a fatal dose of 1.45 MBq/kg (8.7 ng/kg) of 210Po; all untreated rats were dead after 44 days, but 90% of the rats treated with the chelation agent HOEtTTC remained alive after 5 months. [cite journal
author = Rencováa J., Svoboda V., Holuša R., Volf V., Jones M. M., Singh P. K.
title = Reduction of subacute lethal radiotoxicity of polonium-210 in rats by chelating agents
journal = International Journal of Radiation Biology
volume = 72
issue = 3
pages = 247–249
year = 1997
doi = 10.1080/095530097143338
]

Commercial products containing polonium

No credible nuclear authority has asserted that a commercial product was a likely source for the poisoning of Litvinenko. However, as Prof. Peter D. Zimmermansays, "Polonium 210 is surprisingly common. ...Polonium sources with about 10 percent of a lethal dose are readily available — even in a product sold on Amazon.com." [http://www.iht.com/articles/2006/12/19/opinion/edzimmer.php]

Potentially lethal amounts of polonium are present in anti-static brushes sold to photographers. [cite web
title = Solutions to Static Problems
work =
publisher = Amstat Industries
date =
url = http://www.amstat.com/solutions/staticmaster.html
accessdate = 2006-12-01
] Many of the devices are available by mail order.
General Electric markets a static eliminator module with 500 microcuries (20 MBq), roughly 2.5 times the lethal dose of 210Po if 100%-ingested, for US \$71; [cite web
title = Static Eliminator
work =
publisher = GE Osmonics' Labstore
date =
url = http://www.osmolabstore.com/OsmoLabPage.dll?BuildPage&1&1&1005
accessdate = 2006-12-01
] Staticmaster sells replacement units with the same amount (500 mCi) of 210Po for \$36. [cite web
title = Staticmaster Antistatic Products
work =
publisher = SPI Supplies
date =
url = http://www.2spi.com/catalog/photo/statmaster.shtml
accessdate = 2007-08-29
] In USA, the devices with no more than 500 mCi of (sealed) 210Po per unit can be bought in any amount under a "general license" [http://www.nrc.gov/reading-rm/doc-collections/cfr/part031/full-text.html] which means that a buyer needn't be registered by any authorities: the general license "is effective without the filing of an application with the Commission or the issuance of a licensing document to a particular person."

If these sources were used to collect the amount of polonium likely used in the poisoning—and one could devise a method of separating the polonium from its protective casing—it would take 10-100 modules for price of US \$360 to \$7,100. That such a thing could be done is extremely difficult according to the manufacturers and would be highly dangerous to anyone attempting to do so without some special equipment like a glovebox.

Sometimes sources of polonium used in industry are stolen or lost. According to the [http://www.nrc.gov National Regulatory Commission] , there were registered at least 8 cases of loss of control of potentially lethal polonium sources in the USA during 2006. [http://www.google.com/search?q=+site:www.nrc.gov+%22event+notification%22+polonium&num=100&hl=ru&filter=0] . Tiny amounts of such radioisotopes are sometimes used in the laboratory and for teaching purposes — typically of the order of 4–40 kBq (0.1–1.0 $mu$Ci), in the form of sealed sources, with the Po deposited on a substrate or in a resin or polymer matrix—are often exempt from licensing by NRC and similar authorities as they are not considered hazardous. Small amounts of 210Po are available to the public in the United States by mail order from a company called United Nuclear as 'needle sources' for laboratory experimentation. It would require about 15,000 210Po of these sources at a total cost of about \$1 million to obtain a toxic quantity of Polonium. They typically sell between 4 and 8 sources per year. [cite web
last = Singleton
first = Don
title = The Availability of polonium-210
publisher =
date = November 28 2006
url =http://donsingleton.blogspot.com/2006/11/polonium-210.html
accessdate = 2006-11-29
] [cite web
url=http://www.unitednuclear.com/isotopes.htm
title=UnitedNuclear Isotopes for sale over the Internet
accessdate= 2007-03-19
]

According to some estimates, [cite web | url = http://www.guardian.co.uk/russia/article/0,,1962354,00.html |title=?] the cost of the quantity of pure Polonium-210 used to kill Litvinenko would be around £20 million (US \$39 million). [cite web
last = Hooper
first = Rowan
title = Natural selections: Murder in the genes? Polonium, peacocks - and a dead spy
work =
publisher = The Japan Times Online
date = 13 December 2006
url = http://search.japantimes.co.jp/cgi-bin/fe20061213rh.html
accessdate = 2006-12-13
] However, this estimation is based on retail prices of commercially available demonstration radiation sources with very small activities and cannot be considered as reasonable.

Tobacco

The presence of polonium in tobacco smoke has been known since the early 1960s [Radford EP Jr, Hunt VR, "Polonium 210: a volatile radioelement in cigarettes", "Science" (1964) Jan 17;143:247-9"] , [Kelley TF, "Polonium 210 content of mainstream cigarette smoke", "Science" (1965) Jul 30;149:537-8] . Some of the world's biggest tobacco firms researched ways to remove the substance – to no avail – over a 40-year period but never published the results.

ee also

* Polonium halo

References

References and External links verified 2006-11-25 unless noted.
* [http://www.globalsecurity.org/wmd/intro/polonium.htm History of Polonium]
* [http://www.webelements.com/webelements/elements/text/Po/index.html WebElements.com &ndash; Polonium]
* [http://www.periodicvideos.com/videos/084.htm The Periodic Table of Videos (The University of Nottingham): Polonium]
* [http://periodic.lanl.gov/elements/84.html Los Alamos National Laboratory &ndash; Polonium]
* [http://www.fas.org/sgp/othergov/doe/lanl/pubs/00326640.pdf The Human Plutonium Injection Experiments (Polonium experiments - pg20)]
* [http://www.techlib.com/science/ion.html#PoloniumPen Build a pocket-sized ion chamber, useful for detecting Polonium]

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