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Environ Health Perspect. 2012 Sep;120(9):1230-7. doi: 10.1289/ehp.1104607. Epub 2012 Apr 26.

Occurrence of ²¹⁰Po and biological effects of low-level exposure: the need for research.

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  • 1Environmental Sciences Graduate Program, University of Nevada-Reno, P.O. Box 1025, Carson City, NV 89702, USA.



Polonium-210 (²¹⁰Po) concentrations that exceed 1 Bq/L in drinking-water supplies have been reported from four widely separated U.S. states where exposure to it went unnoticed for decades. The radionuclide grandparents of ²¹⁰Po are common in sediments, and segments of the public may be chronically exposed to low levels of ²¹⁰Po in drinking water or in food products from animals raised in contaminated areas.


We summarized information on the environmental behavior, biokinetics, and toxicology of ²¹⁰Po and identified the need for future research.


Potential linkages between environmental exposure to ²¹⁰Po and human health effects were identified in a literature review.


²¹⁰Po accumulates in the ovaries where it kills primary oocytes at low doses. Because of its radiosensitivity and tendency to concentrate ²¹⁰Po, the ovary may be the critical organ in determining the lowest injurious dose for ²¹⁰Po. ²¹⁰Po also accumulates in the yolk sac of the embryo and in the fetal and placental tissues. Low-level exposure to ²¹⁰Po may have subtle, long-term biological effects because of its tropism towards reproductive and embryonic and fetal tissues where exposure to a single alpha particle may kill or damage critical cells. ²¹⁰Po is present in cigarettes and maternal smoking has several effects that appear consistent with the toxicology of ²¹⁰Po.


Much of the important biological and toxicological research on ²¹⁰Po is more than four decades old. New research is needed to evaluate environmental exposure to ²¹⁰Po and the biological effects of low-dose exposure to it so that public health officials can develop appropriate mitigation measures where necessary.

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