Americans Believed to Be Poisoned in Moscow

News reports are circulating today that an American mother and daughter, Maria and Yana Kovalensky, are believed to have been hospitalized for thallium poisoning, a highly toxic substance which has been used in the past for assassinations. The Lede blog at the New York Times also reports that it was the preferred poison of Saddam Hussein. The details are sparse at this time, but here is what Bloomberg is reporting:

A mother and daughter from the U.S. have been hospitalized in Moscow after being poisoned with thallium, Russian officials said. The U.S. Embassy confirmed that the two are in a hospital. Embassy officials are in contact with the family of Marina and Yana Kovoletsky and are providing assistance, an embassy spokeswoman said today by telephone. She declined to give her name, citing government policy. The women were taken Feb. 24 to the Sklifosovsky clinic, where it took doctors four days to determine they had been poisoned with thallium, said the Moscow branch of the sanitary inspection agency, Rospotrebnadzor. Thallium is a highly toxic metallic element used in products ranging from photocells to rat poison. Moscow police are tracing the women’s movements before they were hospitalized and testing people they came into contact with, the Interfax news agency said. Investigators said the women, who were born in the Soviet Union in 1958 and 1981 and emigrated to the U.S. in 1989, could have been poisoned before entering Russia and may seek the help of U.S. law enforcement officials, the news service said. Only a small circle of people would be capable of getting their hands on thallium, said Lev Fyodorov, head of the Union for Chemical Safety, a Russian nongovernmental organization. He added that the case deserved close attention. The radioactive isotope thallium-201 was used in 2003 to assassinate Russian lawmaker and journalist Yuri Shchekochikhin, who wrote about organized crime and corruption in Moscow.