Among the many angles that will be investigated into the death of Sunanda Pushkar, wife of former union minister, Shashi Tharoor, the substance injected into body that may have led to her death will be an extremely crucial aspect to the investigation.
The medical report pertaining to Sunanda lists polonium 201, thallium, nerium oleander, heroin and also snake venom. The problem that the investigators would have would be in ascertaining the presence of polonium and thallium.
The investigators would need to take help abroad in order to ascertain the presence of polonium and thallium. There is not enough infrastructure in India to investigate the presence of these two lethal substances.
The police, however, appear to be suggesting that it was polonium 210 which could have killed Sunanda. This lethal substance discovered in the year 1898 by Marie and Pierre Curie has been named after Poland.
The use of this substance was causes a sure shot death and hit the headlines when it was used to kill KGB agent-turned-Kremlin critic Alexander Litvinenko in London in 2006.
There were also traces of the substance found on the clothing on Yaseer Arafat after his widow alleged the same. This clearly gives an indication that the substance is used in high profile hits when the assassin does not want to leave a trail.
How lethal is polonium 210?
It is a very rare element and occurs naturally in the Earth's crust in very low concentrations. However, it can also be produced artificially in nuclear reactors and is used to eliminate static electricity in devices.
Silver in colour a dose of less than a gram is sufficient to kill a person. It is a sure shot method to kill a person as it is impossible to control once it gets into the blood stream of a person.
Once injected into the blood stream it leads to multiple organ failure. The victim undergoes hair loss, nausea and swelling in the throat. The person using the polonium either makes the victim inhale or drink it. It is also injectable.
How is polonium sourced?
It is not very easy to source. The person sourcing it would have to get it out of a nuclear facility where it is artificially produced. It has to either come from a government source or someone in the military.
The other option would be to get it smuggled from Russia or the United States.
Smuggling of polonium in very small amounts is impossible to detect as it does not set off the radiation detectors. It is not found to be a rampant activity in India, but officials do not rule out a possibility of it being smuggled.
How to detect presence of polonium in a victims body?
While the presence of polonium can be found in the clothing that the person was wearing at the time of his or death, the other method would be to examine the body.
In the Sunanda case, the police will rely on the bed sheet and also the pillow cover of the bed she was lying on to find out if there were traces of the same.
However, the sure shot method to ascertain the presence of polonium would be to exhume the body and re-examine it. When the person has been cremated then all the police will have is to rely on the medical report and the cloth around the dead body.