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Polonium, tobacco and cancer

After reading a letter in today's mail, I found this link

True? single-issue fanatics? Reason why the police are finding polonium traces everywhere? Anyone know the truth about this?

Re: Polonium, tobacco and cancer

If would seem that the research papers are quite numerous and go back a long way - 1964 for example. Maybe earlier?

I have not read the details - sorting the wheat from the chaff of the web references may be difficult and time consuming.

Seems the US tobacco growers deliver more of it than, for example, Indian growers. Maybe connected to the types of fertilizer they use in the US.

The percentage differentces are large but still, relatively, small quantities which would probably have been very difficult to measure not so long ago.

As ever it seems the poison effect is in the dose.

Re: Polonium, tobacco and cancer

I'm a bit sceptical about a radioactive health scare associated with tobacco. There are various unofficial lists of naturally radioactive items that people can come into contact with, and I've not seen tobacco included on those kind of lists.

Example list of radioactive consumer products:

THe most radioactive thing that someone can take into their body in everyday circumstances is actually the humble Brazil nut, which has about 1000 times the radium concentration of other foods. One of the decay products of radium is polonium-210 and that's where naturally occurring polonium-210 would tend to come from.

So before I take notice of a radioactive health scare for tobacco, I think I'd first have to see a radioactive health scare for Brazil nuts.

Re: Re: Polonium, tobacco and cancer

For a pretty good overview of the history of polonium in tobacco research, (at a non phd level,) see:

The physicist I go to for good analysis of epidemiological studies is John Moulder at the Medical College of Wisconsin. His "Power Lines and Cancer" faq and "Cell phones and Cancer" FAQ are classics.

I once asked him on the newsgroup about polonium. After responding "Jeez Frank, you ask the wierdest questions..." he basically opined that the best SWAGs balanced around maybe 30% of cigarette induced lung cancer being due to polonium.

Again, the numbers, timing, (cancer induced after 20-30 years of low level exposure,) etc seem to point to this level.

Re: Re: Polonium, tobacco and cancer

Dave Gardner said:

"So before I take notice of a radioactive health scare for tobacco, I think I'd first have to see a radioactive health scare for Brazil nuts."

Something like this occurred a few years ago. A senior executive of one of the electricity companies (British Energy or its predecessor company) held a press conference in London to talk about radioactive waste from the company's nuclear power stations. Before the talk he handed round some chocolate brazils, much to the enjoyment of the assembled press.

In the talk he pointed out that if this had been on a nuclear site the chocolate brazils would have had to be treated as low level radioactive waste. Several journalists were seen to try to disgorge what they had just enjoyed!

The point was well made but did not get into the newspapers the following day!