The couple recently exposed near Salisbury reportedly had high concentrations of Novichok on their fingers. How did it get there—and why will it be so hard to decontaminate the town?by Robert Chilcott / July 9, 2018 / Leave a comment
A man and a woman were found unconscious in Wiltshire, England, on June 30, after having been exposed to the nerve agent Novichok [the woman, Dawn Sturgess, has since died in hospital]. This is the same substance that was used to poison the former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter in March.
The second incidence of poisonings has reignited fear and speculation about the substance. According to Google, there has been a huge increase in the search term “Novichok half life.”
Half life is a term commonly used to describe the amount of time it takes for half of the atoms of radioactive poisons such as polonium to disintegrate. Polonium is what killed the former Russian spy Alexander Litvinenko in 2006.
But how are nerve agents different from radioactive materials and what does that mean for how we clean up and treat victims after these incidents?
Atoms in radioactive materials have unstable nuclei, meaning they can split up (decay to a stable state) by giving off nuclear radiation.
Some types of radiation are harmful only if the substance is inhaled or ingested, while other types can penetrate and damage human tissue even if the material is external to the bod…