BA planes grounded in radiation scareOver 30,000 passengers affected by poison alert

30 November 2006

 

A plane in the sky

British Airways has been swamped with thousands of calls from passengers after revelations that "low levels of radioactive traces" have been found on two of its aircraft at Heathrow airport.

The discoveries aboard the short haul 767s were made as part of the investigation into the death of former Russian spy Alexander Litvinenko from radiation poisoning.

A BA spokesman said the planes were being examined because ‘individuals involved in the Litvinenko case’ had travelled on them.

An estimated 33,000 passengers and 3,000 staff were involved in the alert, which affected 221 flights to ten European destinations from October 25 to November 29. These included flights to Moscow, Barcelona, Athens, Frankfurt and Istanbul.

Affected flights

BA has published a list of the affected flights and customers who travelled on these flights and would like further advice should telephone NHS Direct on 0845 4647. 

BA says it has taken calls from 2,500 customers on a special helpline, which remains open on 0845 6040171 and + 44 (0) 191 211 3690 for international calls.

However, the risk to passengers is likely to be extremely low, according to the head of the Health Protection Agency (HPA).

Extremely low risk

Professor Pat Troop said HPA specialists were scanning the planes for traces of alpha radiation - the type emitted by polonium 210, the deadly radioactive element with which Mr Litvinenko was poisoned.

Prof Troop said: ‘All the investigations we have been doing thus far show that the risk does appear to be low.

‘This kind of radiation does not travel very far, or through the outer layers of the skin or through paper.

‘Even if the radioactivity was on a passenger's chair, it cannot get through the skin. It is only if you have a lot of it on your hands and put them into your mouth (that you are at risk). It does not appear it will turn out to be a significant risk.’