Periodic Table -> Polonium


Polonium Details

Polonium Symbol: Po

Polonium Atomic Number: 84

Polonium Atomic Weight: (209)

What is Polonium?

Polonium (atomic number 84, symbol Po) is a radioactive element and a very rare semi-metal. The element has 33 radioactive isotopes, including polonium-208 and polonium-210. It is a scarce element that is produced in nuclear reactors. Neurons are used to bombard bismuth-209, and bismuth-210 is formed as a result. Polonium-210 is created through emission of beta particles. Only 3 isotopes have an appreciable half-life - polonium-210, polonium-209, and polonium-208. The half-life of polonium-209 is 102 years, making it the most stable isotope. It emits alpha particles and decays into lead-205.

Polonium-210 also emits an alpha particle and decays into lead-210. This isotope is found in the earth’s crust in small quantities. It can be artificially produced from uranium minerals and ores. The isotope is mainly used to clean dust from camera lenses and photographic films and to eliminate static electricity. Anti-static brushes contain small amounts of polonium-210. It is also used for laboratory experiments in the USA. Neutron sources are created by combining beryllium and polonium-210. Early versions of atomic weapons used such neutron sources.

Polonium was used to eliminate static electricity in sheet plastics and has application in photography. Due to the short half-life of the element, it should be renewed annually. Other sources of beta particles are used today because polonium is a radioactive element. Polonium-210, in particular, is very dangerous, and processing requires strict procedures, precautions, and special equipment. The nuclear facilities where uranium and polonium are processed are strictly regulated and monitored as required by international agreements.

In 1898, Marie Curie discovered radium and polonium after refining pitchblende. The element was named after Curie’s home country. Regarding its chemical and physical properties, polonium is fairly volatile and silvery-gray in color. The chemical properties of polonium resemble those of tellurium and bismuth. There are no naturally occurring compounds, and polonides and other compounds are synthetically produced. Two types of polonides can be formed – intermetallic and ionic polonides.
There are three known halogen compounds, 3 oxides, and 1 hydride. Halogen compounds include polonium hexafluoride, polonium tetrachloride, and polonium dichloride. The metallic form of polonium can be electrodeposited on silver or another metal. It can be also separated from bismuth through fractional distillation.

Polonium can enter the human body by breathing, drinking water, and eating. It enters the kidneys and the spleen through the blood stream and accumulates there. Long-term exposure has a negative effect on the function of the liver and the lymph nodes. A small amount of polonium (about 10 percent) accumulates in the bone marrow. Polonium can cause death even in small doses. When radiation poisoning occurs, multiple organ failure occurs because alpha particles affect the bone marrow, kidneys, and liver. The symptoms of poisoning include pallor, throat swelling, and nausea. Polonium poisoning is extremely rare, however. Some speculate that Arafat died due to poisoning.

The ribs of smokers contain more polonium than those of non-smokers. Polonium-210 is found in cigarettes and enters the body in higher concentrations than radon. It is present in the urine and blood of smokers and increases the risk for premature death due to cardiovascular disease, cirrhosis, and bladder and liver cancer. Phosphate fertilizers contain polonium-210, which is absorbed by tobacco and other plants. The isotope emits alpha particles and increases the risk for lung cancer. The element is also present in seafood.

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