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Friday 28th October 2016

Polonium risk spreads

5th December 2006

09082006_radioactivesymbol1.jpgThe Health Protection Agency (HPA) has called for hundreds of people to come forward for testing in the wake of the death by radiation poisoning of Alexander Litvinenko.

The agency said it wanted to contact anyone who had been in the bars or restaurants visited by the ex-Russian spy on 1 November. Staff at the two hospitals where Litvinenko was treated have also been urged to come forward for testing.

The call comes after thousands of people have visited the NHS Direct website concerned that they been contaminated by the radioactive material used to kill former spy. NHS Direct has also received nearly 700 phone calls from concerned members of the public.

Litvinenko's death has been linked the radioactive isotope polonium-210 and anyone thought to be at risk will asked to provide a urine sample to test for traces of the deadly substance.

The situation is thought to be entirely unprecedented; the last major incident of large scale radioactivity in the UK occurred in 1986 when the radiation plume from Chernobyl swept over the country. However, the HPA said that radioactive contamination from Chernobyl had been relatively easy to detect. In the case of radioactive isotope polonium-210, detection is far more complex and will take several days to identify.

Medical staff have stressed that those who had come into contact with the former agent were unlikely to be at any serious risk but that it was important to rule out any further contamination and provide people with reassurance.

The HPA is focussing its efforts on the Itsu restaurant in Piccadilly and the Pine bar and main restaurant of the Millennium Hotel, Grosvenor Square, in central London.

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