Anna Zimna, Alicja Szadziewska, Maciej Gawlik
Selected aspects of the radioactive isotopes analytics with particular emphasis on criminal poisonings
Radioactive isotopes and their compounds were used for criminal purposes owing to their convenient chemical and physical properties. They are usually odorless and tasteless and could remain unnoticed. Symptoms are delayed and unspecific, they prevent accurate diagnosis and immediate treatment. Furthermore, radionuclides are hard to detect and analyze due to their radioactive decay that results in conversion into different elements. Radioactive isotope analytics is improved enough to test poisoning nowadays, but also resolve historic mysteries and determine cause of death in homicide cases. In this article we discuss examples of radionuclide intoxication in crime including source, symptoms and diagnostic method. The most known cases of Polonium-210 poisoning in public circulation were discussed. These are poisoning of Alexander Litvinenko and Yasser Arafat in the scientific literature. Despite the similarities in symptoms and death-leading disorders, it was not possible to finally prove the cause of Arafat’s death inherent in the radioactive isotope. This was undoubtedly due to the rather long period that passed from the moment of death to undertaking toxicologically oriented tests. The case of Litvinenko was different and evidence of Polon-210 poisoning can be considered confirmed. Poisoning with iodine-131 isotope, well known for radioactive contamination of the environment after the Chernobyl nuclear power plant failure, is also discussed. The work is supplemented by a review of press reports, in which the motif of criminal poisoning with radioisotopes appears, along with the circumstances that allowed the determination of the direct causes of the crime. It was concluded that despite the rare documented cases of criminal poisoning radioactive isotopes, now the problem is still present. In this aspect, the contribution of the development of toxicological analysis to reducing criminal activities cannot be overestimated. Allowing analysis even years after the crime thanks to the use of modern technology is a factor effectively deterring potential criminals.
Keywords: toxicological analysis, radioisotopes, isotopes, poisoning, crime.
© Farm Pol, 2020, 76(7): 413–419