Litvinenko house: "imminent risk of serious harm"

So – finally today I got to speak to the Litvinenko lawyer following our conversation last week.

From conversations today I know that close neighbours remain worried – not surprisingly given that Haringey Council, whilst taking down the plastic sheeting, has now put up an ‘Emergency Prohibition Order’ (under the Housing Act of 2004, Section 43).

I quote from the Order: ‘The Council is further satisfied that the hazard presents an imminent risk of serious harm to the health or safety of any of the occupiers of those or other premises’.

Moreover, on the second page of the Order it affirms that the hazard is ‘radiation’; that there is contamination from Polonium 210 and that in order for the Council to revoke this order requires ‘remediation works to reduce the radiation levels of all the surfaces in all parts of the premises to not more than 10 Bequerels per square centimetre’.

Now, Haringey Council have been assuring people on their website that “Haringey Council enforcement officers want to reassure the public that living close to the property in Osier Crescent is not a health hazard”, but this is contradicted by the Emergency Prohibition Order – which says there is “an imminent risk of serious harm to the health or safety of any of the occupiers of those or other premises.”

So – I have emailed the Leader of Haringey, George Meehan to make it quite clear that in my view it is the Council’s responsibility to make sure the house is safe – and get it cleaned up.

And it is downright irresponsible to tell residents it is safe at the same time as putting up the notice saying it isn’t. Make up your mind Haringey!

Anyway – back to the Litvinenko lawyer’s update. And as I understand the situation as of this posting – the directors of the company in control of the Litvinenko house have written to Haringey to ask on what basis an Emergency Prohibition Order was applied. At the same time they have formally appealed against the imposition of the order – but they may not appeal depending on them satisfying themselves that there is a proper basis for that Order. And – I was told – Haringey have not responded.

This set of lawyers are very angry that Haringey implies that they are not cooperating as they say they have been in contact with Haringey prior to last week.

All rather messy and unsatisfactory! But it boils down to this: Haringey Council says on its website that everything is safe, but they Emergency Prohibition Order says not. The lawyers involved say Haringey hasn’t responded to everything and think the Council is wrongly implying that they are playing ball.

So my message to Haringey Council is simple – stop messing around, stop saying conflicting things and get it sorted.

0 thoughts on “Litvinenko house: "imminent risk of serious harm"

  1. <sigh>Is mains electricity dangerous?Yes, if you poke your finger in the socket or touch bare wire with wet hands. No, if you maintain a few centimetres air gap, and don’t touch it.Is a house contaminated with Polonium 210 dangerous?Yes, if you actually live in the place, touch the surfaces and transfer the contamination into your mouth, stir up the dust and breath it in. No, if you live next door or down the street. The radiation you get from Polonium 210 is stopped by an air gap of a couple of centimetres. It’s chances of penetrating a brick wall are nil.Is the Americium 241 in domestic smoke detectors dangerous? Yes, if you take the things apart and poke it around. No, if you leave them stuck to your ceilings. Americium is a highly radioactive transuranic element that doesn’t occur in nature, and is made by bombarding Plutonium with neutron radiation from a nuclear reactor. It has a half life of over 400 years.Is going outside dangerous? Yes, a little bit. Cosmic rays are ultra-high energy radiation from beyond the solar system that smash into the upper atmosphere with such force that exotic particles like muons and pions are created and cascade down through the atmosphere. Up to ten million times more powerful than those from the biggest particle accelerator built, thousands of rays and fragments pass through your body every minute you spend outside and unshielded. Should you worry? No. Most go straight through you without interacting, and the damage done by the few you stop is routinely repaired by your cellular machinery. They form part of the normal background radiation level.(But you might want to think twice about flying in an aeroplane near the magnetic poles during a solar storm.)Have you heard of Carbon dating? That’s where you determine how long ago something died by measuring the Carbon 14 levels in it. All living things contain a certain level of Carbon 14, a radioactive isotope with a half life a little under 6,000 years, produced by the above-mentioned cosmic ray bombardment in the upper atmosphere. The more of it has decayed, the older the sample is. Worse, it’s an emitter of beta radiation, which is a whole lot more penetrating than the short-range alpha emitters like Polonium 210. One carbon atom in a trillion is radioactive, which means there are more than a thousand million million atoms of highly radioactive carbon 14 in your body. You can’t get away from it!Are you terrified yet?Ain’t the universe a marvellous and fascinating place? All this stuff going on, invisible, and most people are totally oblivious to it all. Except when some scientists come along and tells you about a few tiny bits of it, and how amazing it all is.

  2. You seem very confident that the Emergency Order is wrong and not needed. What are your professional qualifications to make this judgement? And have you inspected the site in person?PS Dust travels. Radioactive dust travels. So saying that radiation doesn’t travel far through air isn’t really saying everything is safe.

  3. Anonymous,Do you mean me or Lynne?I’m quite confident that the Emergency Order is correct and necessary. I’m just pointing out that there is no inherent contradiction between saying that it is dangerous for anyone living inside the house and safe for anyone outside it. I presume the council have consulted the experts on the matter, and that is why they have made the decision they have. But if you don’t believe me, and don’t believe the council’s experts, the correct thing to do would be to contact some experts you trust yourself. The government employs entire organisations chock full of scientists, and there are certainly radiation safety experts among them. I’m sure they’d have time for a few questions from a concerned MP.There appear to be people who will unquestioningly accept the “scientific consensus” on an issue like global warming, but won’t believe one on the relative safety of radioactivity or mobile phone transmissions. Fascinating.

  4. In your comments you’ve said that neighbours have nothing to worry about a2. But look at the wording of the prohibition order – it talks about a risk to the occupiers of other houses too. That contradicts what you say – though you also say you agree with the prohibition order. I can’t see how that adds up?As for “scientific consensus”, you are introducing rather a red herring there I think. Who has questioned in any of these exchanges the underlying science? But just because the radiation doesn’t travel far through the air doesn’t mean people in other houses might not face a risk – as the earlier comment said.

  5. Mark P,It says there is a risk to occupants of those or other properties. Why did they use “or” rather than “and”? Could the phrase simply be reflecting the wording of the conditions in the Housing Act that justifies making the order? One could allow that the council might mean it either way, except that they have explicitly said elsewhere that there is no risk to the neighbours.I would agree that there is a risk to occupants of “those or other properties”, because there is a risk to occupants of “those” properties. No contradiction, although the wording is admittedly odd.Nobody has directly questioned the underlying science; nobody has given any scientific reason for believing the council’s scientific advice to be incorrect, or unscientific. Science hasn’t come into it, which may be the problem.The earlier commenter does raise a valid question. To answer it, one would need to know how much contamination there is in total, how fast it can move by the mechanisms proposed, and how much that will dilute the toxin before people encounter it.I have given some thought to the question and crunched a few numbers (which I won’t bore you with), but given the dose, the fact that most Polonium is excreted in faeces and urine (of which there will be little left), that only a few percent could have been excreted in the time he was living there, that it will be diluted throughout about 500-1000 cubic metres of air in a house, that in undisturbed air most dust settles out in a few days, that airflow through a locked up house is relatively slow (and more so after windows are sealed with plastic), that what escapes from the house is unlikely to then settle in the neighbourhood but will follow the wind, that each small amount that escapes is then further diluted throughout an even larger volume of air, that it has been decaying naturally all this time, and that even if there was any such leakage then the vast majority would have occurred during the first few days before anybody knew about it, then I’d say that the residual risk remaining could confidently be said to be negligable.But I’m claiming no authority and not asking you to take my word for it. The house was inspected by the police, and presumably not the local plod but the sort of people who know how to detect traces of Polonium, and I find it hard to believe that the council would have acted as they have without consulting those experts on how much of a risk was posed. People are scared of radiation, and councils are scared of being sued.But if you don’t understand such an issue, and as a non-scientist that’s perfectly reasonable, then the correct response is not to immediately assume the worst, but to go and ask someone who knows. There are lots of scientists and scientific organisations around, many of which offer advice to the public and to the government. Scientists actually like it when people come and listen to them talking about their favourite subject, and I’m sure would be chuffed to bits to have an MP come and ask for their expert advice.If you don’t know something, find out!All I’ve really said is that in general small amounts of radiation are not dangerous, and that there has been no reason presented to doubt the council’s assertion that it’s potentially dangerous inside the house and safe outside it. That doesn’t sound to me any more unreasonable than other comments I’ve seen on here.If you could get someone like the Health Protection Agency to say it’s also dangerous outside the house, then I’d accept that. But I very much doubt that you can, and I’m pretty sure none of you have tried.Here, this might help.

  6. When I wrote to the Health Protection Agency in January they were quite clear that remediation was necessary and on 15th of December they wrote to Haringey to say so. We can therefore assume that the order is correct. However, in the letter, they say ‘The RPD monitoring team entered the premises before Mrs Litvinenko arrived and found more extensive contamination than they expected (but not at levels higher than AWE had identified).’ We cannot be sure that the house is inviolable or that there won’t be an unforeseen breach – even if we accept that the danger is inside rather than outside the house. The point is – regardless of dust travelling or otherwise, that a house contaminated by radiation should be cleaned and not left. As to dust travelling not being a problem – maybe not – but there was a UK flag there which has disappeared. And a point made to me by a neighbour’s father was that vandals or youngsters could break in – see it as a challenge. The Council, I gather, hadn’t thought about such a possibility. I am going there later today to meet with the near neighbours and the Council.