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March 07, 2007

Thallium Poisoning

There's been another case of suspected thallium poisoning:

An American woman and her daughter, both of whom fell ill mysteriously during a trip to Russia last month, had been poisoned with thallium, hospital officials revealed yesterday.

The deadly metal is the same substance originally blamed for the poisoning in London of former KGB spy Alexander Litvinenko.

Marina Kovalenskaya, 48, and her daughter Yana, 25, flew to Moscow last month from their home in Los Angeles for a family wedding. They fell ill in the early hours of February 24.


"Thallium is less strongly restricted than polonium. You can get hold of it from any university laboratory, not just in Moscow, but also in New York or London," said Lev Federov, president of Russia's union of chemical societies.

You don't even need to get it from a university lab. There are some industrial uses (certain types of glass) but the biggest use of the salts (which is what would be used to poison someone, either deliberately or in error, rather than the metal itself) is in cockroach poisons. I don't know whether the Russian version still does use it but it certainly used to , as similar products in many other countries did. It's a sort of chalk, that you use to draw a line on the floor: as the cockroach walks over it, "tasting" to see where it's going, it ingests it and dies.

(That is, at least, what I've been told anyway).

I certainly wouldn't want to judge what has happened here but it is possible for there to be accidental thallium poisonings as well as deliberate ones. From memory there was one ten to 15 years ago at Great Ormond Street. A child had been poisoned by mistake in some Third World country just before coming to the UK. It took the intervention of a detective novel writer (PD James perhaps?) to explain it, as she'd used the idew in a recent plot.

(Love to see if that story can be confirmed actually, think it might have been before everything went online though).

March 7, 2007 in Science | Permalink


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Marina Kovalenskaya, 48, and her daughter Yana...

Good old American names, them.

Posted by: Tim Newman | Mar 7, 2007 10:48:27 PM