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Health effects of polonium
Polonium is studied in a few nuclear research laboratories where its high radioactivity as an alpha-emitter requires special handling techniques and precautions.
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.
Lung cancer rates among 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. 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 growers - calcium phosphate ore accumulates uranium and slowly releases radon gas.
As radon decays, its electrically charged daughter products 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 emit radiation. Smoking two packs of cigarettes a day imparts a radiation dose by 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. However, the radiation dose at the radon "action level" of 4 pCi/L is roughly equivalent to smoking 10 cigarettes a day.
In addition, polunium-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 liver, and cardiovascular diseases.
The Surgeon General C. Everett Koop stated that radioactivity, rather than tar, accounts for at least 90% of all smoking-related lung cancers. The 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 of radiation from smoking or residential radon as a cause of lung cancer, presumably, to protect the public from undue fears of radiation.
For over 35 years, researchers and tobacco corporations have known that commercially grown tobacco is contaminated with radioactive elements (1). The contamination is sourced in naturally occurring radioactive radon gas (2) which is absorbed and trapped in apatite rock (3). Apatite is mined for the purpose of formulating the phosphate portion of most chemical fertilizers(4). Polonium releases ionizing alpha radiation which is at least 20 times more harmful than either beta or gamma radiation when exposed to internal organs(5).
Lung cancer rates increased significantly during most of the 1900's (6). Its no coincidence that between 1938 and 1960, the level of polonium 210 in American tobacco tripled commensurate with the increased use of chemical fertilizers and Persistant Organic Pollutant (POP) accumulation(7).
Conservative estimates put the level of radiation absorbed by a pack-and-a-half a day smoker at the equivalent of 300 chest X-rays every year (8). The Office of Radiation, Chemical & Biological Safety at Michigan State University state in their newsletter that the radiation equivalent was as high as 800 chest X-rays per year(9). The National Institute of Health published a radiation exposure chart which shows that smoking 30 cigarettes per day is the equivalent of 2,000 chest x-rays per year.(10) R.T. Ravenholt of the Centers for Disease Control stated that tobacco is the largest source of radiation exposure among the American public(11). Researchers have induced cancer in animal test subjects that inhaled polonium 210 but have not caused cancer through the inhalation of any of the non-radioactive chemical carcinogens found in tobacco(12).
Recently released tobacco corporation internal memos and reports indicate that they were well aware of radiation contamination as early as 1964(13), and had a method to remove polonium from tobacco in 1975(14). In 1977, Phillip Morris confirmed that superphosphate fertilizer was a source of polonium.
Indoor radon accumulation is a serious health risk that is responsible for 10% of American lung cancer fatalities or about 15,000 deaths per year (16). Smoking tobacco greatly magnifies the radon risk (17). The needless additional radiation delivered via fertilizer can be reduced through the use of alternative phosphate sources (18) or organic farming techniques (19).
( Florida State University)
J Environ Radioact. 2004;71(1):33-41. Related Articles, Links
Polonium-210 budget in cigarettes.
National Center for Nuclear Safety and Radiation Control, Atomic Energy Authority, P.O. Box 7551, Nasr City, 11762 Cairo, Egypt. email@example.com
Due to the relatively high activity concentrations of (210)Po and (210)Pb that are found in tobacco and its products, cigarette smoking highly increases the internal intake of both radionuclides and their concentrations in the lung tissues. That might contribute significantly to an increase in the internal radiation dose and in the number of instances of lung cancer observed among smokers. Samples of most frequently smoked fine and popular brands of cigarettes were collected from those available on the Egyptian market. (210)Po activity concentrations were measured by alpha spectrometry, using surface barrier detectors, following the radiochemical separation of polonium. Samples of fresh tobacco, wrapping paper, fresh filters, ash and post-smoking filters were spiked with (208)Po for chemical recovery calculation. The samples were dissolved using mineral acids (HNO(3), HCl and HF). Polonium was spontaneously plated-out on stainless steel disks from diluted HCl solution. The (210)Po activity concentration in smoke was estimated on the basis of its activity in fresh tobacco and wrapping paper, fresh filter, ash and post-smoking filters. The percentages of (210)Po activity concentrations that were recovered from the cigarette tobacco to ash, post-smoking filters, and smokes were assessed. The results of this work indicate that the average (range) activity concentration of (210)Po in cigarette tobacco was 16.6 (9.7-22.5) mBq/cigarette. The average percentages of (210)Po content in fresh tobacco plus wrapping paper that were recovered by post-smoking filters, ash and smoke were 4.6, 20.7 and 74.7, respectively. Cigarette smokers, who are smoking one pack (20 cigarettes) per day, are inhaling on average 123 mBq/d of (210)Po and (210)Pb each. The annual effective doses were calculated on the basis of (210)Po and (210)Pb intake with the cigarette smoke. The mean values of the annual effective dose for smokers (one pack per day) were estimated to be 193 and 251 microSv from (210)Po and (210)Pb, respectively.
J Environ Monit. 2003 Oct;5(5):791-4. Related Articles, Links
210Po bioaccumulation by mushrooms from Poland.
Skwarzec B, Jakusik A.
University of Gdansk, Faculty of Chemistry, Sobieskiego 18/19, 80-952 Gdansk, Poland. firstname.lastname@example.org
The paper presents results on 210Po activity concentration measured in mushroom samples collected in northern Poland (Bialogard and Elblag areas). Among 20 species of wild mushrooms, King Bolete (Boletus edulis), accumulated 210Po in the highest degree. Therefore this species of higher mushrooms is an excellent bioindicator for 210Po radioactivity in the land environment. Finally, the effective dose of polonium emission was calculated for a consumer of King Bolete. Wild mushroom consumption contributed up to 37 microSv to the effective dose in an individual consuming about 5 kg (fresh weight) of heavily contaminated Boletus edulis species per year.
Int J Radiat Biol. 2004 Mar;80(3):199-208.
Aspects of the geographical variations of naturally occurring 210Pb/210Po in permanent teeth of juveniles in the UK.
James PR, Close JJ, Keitch PA, Allen JE, Fews AP, Henshaw DL.
H. H. Wills Physics Laboratory, University of Bristol, Tyndall Avenue, Bristol BS8 1TL, UK.
PURPOSE: To study geographical variations in the level of naturally occurring 210Pb-supported 210Po in permanent teeth of juveniles in the UK. MATERIALS AND METHODS: Permanent teeth extracted from 278 juveniles for orthodontic purposes were obtained from 48 counties in the UK. 210Po activity concentration was measured on the outer enamel surface using TASTRAK alpha-particle-sensitive plastic track detectors. RESULTS: Geometric mean +/- SE activity concentrations in teeth from urban, suburban and rural areas, excluding the high radon area of Devon, were 8.41 + 0.25/-0.24, 7.76 + 0.37/-0.35 and 7.20 +0.49/-0.46 Bq kg(-1), respectively. Overall, there was no significant association between alpha-activity on the outer enamel surface of permanent teeth and proximity to the major UK motorways. However, when the data were considered with respect to the prevailing south-westerly wind on the western side of the UK, a statistically significant association with respect to donors living downwind (on the easterly side) of the motorways was found. This effect was greater for sections of the M5 and M6 motorways that traverse urban areas. 210Po levels in teeth were also associated with domestic radon concentration. This effect was comparable with that from traffic and urban pollution. CONCLUSIONS: Higher levels of 210Pb-supported 210Po are seen in permanent teeth of juveniles near sources of increased exposure in the UK. Inhalation uptake is an important pathway of exposure, especially with respect to domestic radon exposure. The results might be important in assessing integrated exposure to 210Po in the skeleton and consequent high linear energy transfer dose to bone marrow.
Environ Pollut. 1997;95(3):371-7.
A study of polonium-210 distribution aspects in the riverine ecosystem of Kaveri, Tiruchirappalli, India.
Shaheed K, Somasundaram SS, Hameed PS, Iyengar MA.
Environmental Research Laboratory, Post-Graduate Department of Zoology, Jamal Mohamed College, Tiruchirappalli-620 020, India.
Distribution of a natural radionuclide ((210)Po) in water, sediment and biota was quantified along a 95 km reach of the Kaveri River, India. It is observed that the soft tissues of animals concentrated a higher level of (210)Po than the hard parts like shell and bone. The ranges of (210)Po activity in biological samples were 2.32-10.78 Bq kg(-1) wet (aquatic weeds), 18.94-28.55 Bq kg(-1) wet (plankton), 32.51 to 46.17 Bq kg(-1) wet (snail), 57.42 to 105.78 Bq kg(-1) wet (bivalve), 12.13 to 19.10 Bq kg(-1) wet (prawn) and 1.86 to 4.17 Bq kg(-1) wet (fish). The concentration factors (CFs) for the aquatic organisms ranged from 10(3) to 10(4), indicating a high affinity of (210)Po for organic moieties. The bivalve mollusc, Lamellidens marginalis, accumulated higher concentrations of (210)Po, suggesting that it could serve as a biomonitor of (210)Po radionuclide in riverine systems. Further, the levels of 210Po in water, sediment and biological samples from impoundments were higher than those from stations located in the open river. This may be largely due to aerial inputs of the radionuclide, accumulation of radionucliderich silt and organic matter, and increased biological production in the impounded water body.