Let's assume that I just realised that tea I drunk 30 minutes ago during meeting with a secret agent was doped with radioactive polonium. What should I do? What the doctors will do? Are there antidotes for such things? What are proposed novel therapies?

Note that I'm asking about physical foundations of such radiative poisoning and mechanisms of curation.

I'm asking here, because I know that SOMETIMES physics and medicine are ALMOST the same thing.

  • 6
    $\begingroup$ This question appears to be off-topic because it is about medical treatment not physics. $\endgroup$ Commented Jan 11, 2015 at 12:22
  • $\begingroup$ You're dead. And, no, physics and medicine are not the same. I'm a physicist and my wife's an MD, so I Know this. $\endgroup$ Commented Jan 11, 2015 at 13:02
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    $\begingroup$ See en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Polonium#Treatment $\endgroup$
    – ProfRob
    Commented Jan 11, 2015 at 13:02
  • $\begingroup$ @CarlWitthoft I wrote "sometimes" and "almost". I was curious about how does this kind of poisoning work and what are physical foundings of treatment. $\endgroup$
    – user46147
    Commented Jan 11, 2015 at 16:13

1 Answer 1


After 30 minutes most of the tea will still be in your stomach. Drink a full cup of very salty warm water then barf it all back up again (note to commenters - yes, there are better emetics. Salt is readily available). Repeat until the ambulance arrives and have someone tell the HAZMAT cleanup crew that it's radioactive. Lay on your left side to discourage the movement of any remaining liquid into your digestive system, and take the ambulance to the nearest hospital for a stomach pump.

Next, see your lawyer and get your estate in order. You might survive, you might not. Polonium is an alpha emitter, and while alpha particles can't penetrate a piece of paper they are very bad news when taken internally. This is probably why it was used on Litvinenko - relatively safe for the KGB agent, nearly guaranteed fatal for the target.

The hospital will start chelation therapy, which removes various metals from your system. But there is no treatment for any damage that has been done, and no way to stop further damage other than removing the radioactive substance. Your remaining hospital stay will be largely supportive treatments until they give up and transfer you to hospice care. This is why you want to deal with the lawyer early on.

Most of the better-known treatments, like iodide tablets, are for very specific radiation sources and do nothing after the fact.


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