Arafat Polonium theory debunked by (rather straightforward) science

Readers may be familiar with the “investigation” conducted by Aljazerra into Arafat’s death.

Paris, France – Swiss scientists who conducted tests on samples taken from Yasser Arafat’s body have found at least 18 times the normal levels of radioactive polonium in his remains. The scientists said that they were confident up to an 83 percent level that the late Palestinian leader was poisoned with it, which they said “moderately supports” polonium as the cause of his death.

A 108-page report by the University Centre of Legal Medicine in Lausanne, which was obtained exclusively by Al Jazeera, found unnaturally high levels of polonium in Arafat’s ribs and pelvis, and in soil stained with his decaying organs.

Essentially, they say they’ve found traces of Polonium in his clothing.

There’s just one problem with that – it’s virtually impossible. Here’s a couple of extracts from the aljazeera themselves.

Ingesting just 50 nanogrammes, or inhaling 10 nanogrammes, of the substance can cause death. This means one gramme of polonium-210 could theoretically poison and kill about 10 million people.

Natural levels of polonium that accumulate on surfaces barely register, and the element disappears quickly. Polonium-210 has a half-life of 138 days, meaning that half of the substance decays roughly every four-and-a-half months.

So to put it briefly:

  1. Poisinging with Polonium would require a very, very small amount of the stuff to produce a lethal effect.
  2. Every 138 days, the amount left would at least half (assuming it didn’t get removed by other processes)
  3. Arafat died 8 years ago

See the problem here?

Legal Insurrection points to this guy who seems to know what he’s talking about.

So if you gave someone a microgram (1/1,000,000th of a gram), after 138 days there would be a grand total of ½ a microgram left in him (actually there’d be even less because some of it would have been excreted during the time the victim was still living).

How much would be left after 8 years? Well take 8 * 365 = 2920 days. Divide by 138 to get 21 half lives.

If we start with 1/1,000,000 of a gram and divide by 2, 21 times… I’ll spare you the effort. your calculator will give up and tell you it’s nearly(*) nothing.

Realistically speaking there might be an atom or two(*) but we’re down in the depths of very small quantum things so it doesn’t take a Heisenberg to tell you finding this is uncertain. The only certainty is you won’t be able to detect it above background, even in a low activity room.

So what does this stuff turn into? Mostly something called Lead-206 − 206Pb. Now what a lab might have done is look to see if Arafat had more of this than would be expected, but considering the poisoning dose of Polonium-210 is so low to start with, that would also be impossible. We all have a bit of lead in us, especially those people who were alive back in the days of lead in gasoline!

With the most amazing measuring equipment, in the most physically shielded room possible, you couldn’t find a piece of radioactive Polonium-210 eight years after it was made. Looking for some in an exhumed body or belongs is astonishing.

The decay products of Polonium-210 are not uncommon enough to look for either.

There’s no way on earth this lab found anything scientifically significant in the corpse of Arafat (hence their very cagy language).

In short, this is complete bunk. 

…Yahoo! answers some questions about polonium poison and informs us:

Swiss scientists say Arafat had symptoms commonly linked to radiation poisoning, including nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and liver and kidney failure — but not two other classic symptoms, hair loss and a weaker immune system.

While the liver and kidney were not reported at the time, “persistent vomiting, diarrhea and stomach pains” were. As any of the last pictures of Arafat recall, (see above) his face was still adorned with a beard at the time he was brought to France for the last time. Actually these symptoms would be consistent will gall bladder disease, and Arafat, at the time, was reported to be suffering from gallstones. Like the symptoms mentioned above this too was reported by the New York Times. Why didn’t the reporter see if there was anything in her own paper’s reporting that supported her current reporting?

Seems pretty conclusive.

But of course, you’ll always have people who are only too ready to believe stuff like this. Cos you know, Israel is eeeeevvvvvviiiiiil.


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