This is a partial transcript from "On the Record," December 16, 2004, that has been edited for clarity.
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GRETA VAN SUSTEREN, HOST: Opposition leader Viktor Yushchenko (search) says he is sure that he was poisoned by the Ukrainian government. Yushchenko believes he was poisoned with dioxin at a September 5 lunch with the head of the Ukrainian security service. New test results show his blood contains the second highest level of dioxin (search) poisoning ever recorded in humans.
Joining us from New York, forensic pathologist Dr. Michael Baden and in Philadelphia, forensic toxicologist Dr. Middleberg. First, what is dioxin?
DR. ROBERT MIDDLEBERG, FORENSIC TOXICOLOGIST: Dioxin is actually a compound that has no real use that we're aware of. It's a byproduct of the production of many other things, especially pesticides and a few other agents. So no one really produces it for any significant reason, but it is present as a contaminant, and it is a very, very toxic substance.
VAN SUSTEREN: Doctor Baden, a toxic substance — that means that you die?
BADEN: Not necessarily. Enough can kill you, but it causes certain kinds of symptoms. And Greta, this is a forensically fascinating situation, with all kinds of implications between the Russians and Ukrainians and Americans because once you take it into the body, it gets into the fat. And it gets in the fat primarily around the hair follicles on the face and causes these big abscess that lead to the kind of scarring and changes in the face that Yushchenko shows.
It also, Greta, gets into the pancreas (search), causes pancreatitis, which supposedly developed shortly after that dinner, the meeting he had had in which he may have eaten the material. And the most serious complication is it gets into the liver. And years later, you can come down with liver cancer. He's going to be watched for the rest of his life for the development of liver cancer.
VAN SUSTEREN: Dr. Middleberg, should he have tasted it?
MIDDLEBERG: Potentially not. It takes a very, very minute quantities of this material to elicit the effects, much less than one milligram, which is a very small amount of material. So if somebody put it in his food and masked it, it certainly would be difficult for him to know that he was ingesting it.
VAN SUSTEREN: Dr. Middleberg, I read that the amount that was determined in his system was 6,000 times higher than normal. When I read "normal," does that mean we have some in our system otherwise?
MIDDLEBERG: All of us do. If a fat sample was taken from all of us, every individual pretty much in civilized societies, we would find some dioxins in us. They're in our environment. They don't really go away very easily, they're even part of the food chain, actually. So whenever we're eating fish or meat or even vegetables, for that matter, we are being exposed to dioxins. But the amount, of course, that we get in us is so minute that it does not elicit the effects that we're seeing in this individual.
VAN SUSTEREN: Dr. Baden, will he recover, at least facially? I know that you said there might be a long-term issue for his liver, but will his face return to what it was?
BADEN: No. His face will not return to what it was. It may get a little better, but the scarring will be permanent unless he has plastic surgery or something. The pancreas will get better. The liver is what they have to watch out for.
But it's interesting about poisoning, Greta. This sort of is reminiscent of Rasputin being poisoned back in 1917 in Russia, where arsenic was given to poison him, but they didn't give him enough, so he die and they had to shoot them and drown him. With Yushchenko, the amount he has undoubtedly was meant to kill him, but he may not have eaten all the food it was in. You can't predict how much somebody's going to eat, especially if it had a taste. And it wound up causing this serious rash on his face, this acne, and that's what made people look for dioxin. If he didn't develop that acne on his face, nobody would have looked for it. Very few laboratories can find dioxin, and it was only because some Vietnam veterans coming back after Agent Orange, where they had some contaminant of dioxin, also had the same rash.
VAN SUSTEREN: So Dr. Middleberg, why would someone use dioxin? Why not poison someone with something else? If you want to kill the person, why not get something a little more effective and maybe you'd not have these tell-tale signs, the facial problems?
MIDDLEBERG: It's a great question. People poison for a lot of reasons. People don't just poison to kill. Sometimes people poison to incapacitate, to elicit other effects in people. It's hard to imagine, or I can't really put myself in someone else's shoes as to why they would have done this. Certainly, if somebody has enough knowledge to cultivate this material — because it's not easily obtained, but to obtain the pure material, they should have had an idea that this material really has never been found to kill anybody. It certainly can hurt people, and significantly, again, incapacitate them. But if they had the knowledge to use this material, they had to know that there was a good chance that maybe all they might do is hurt the individual, and again, severely incapacitate him.
VAN SUSTEREN: Dr. Baden, I'm not in the market to kill somebody, but if I wanted to get some dioxin, where do you get it?
BADEN: It's almost impossible to get. That's why this whole thing with higher-echelon agents being present at the dinner — the FBI could find it. The KGB could find it. But it isn't manufactured, as Rob said, for any use. There's no use for this.
And what's interesting, and one of the reasons it gets into the food chain, any time there's a fire — forest fires from lightning, volcanoes erupting — they produce a little bit of dioxin, gets into the food chain and gets into our bodies but doesn't cause us any harm. But when you give a large dose like this — KGB agents might know a great deal about how to get it and how to poison somebody, how to put it in the soup, but not necessarily how it works toxicologically in the body.
VAN SUSTEREN: Gentlemen, thank you both very much.
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