LONDON – More than three dozen staff at hospitals that treated poisoned former Russian spy Alexander Litvinenko will be tested for radioactive contamination, Britain's Health Protection Agency said Wednesday.
The agency said 106 staff at Barnet General Hospital and University College Hospital had been assessed for possible exposure, and 49 would have their urine tested.
Agency spokesman Lawrence Knight said both hospitals had been checked for contamination and were found to pose no risk to the public.
"All areas are now open for normal activities and to the public and staff," he said.
Litvinenko, a former KGB spy turned fierce Kremlin critic, was treated at Barnet hospital in north London after falling ill on Nov. 1. He was transferred to University College Hospital when his condition worsened, and died Nov. 23.
High doses of polonium-210 — a rare radioactive element usually manufactured in specialized nuclear facilities — were found in his body.
In a deathbed accusation, Litvinenko blamed Russian President Vladimir Putin for his poisoning. Putin has strongly denied the charge.
The mysterious death has clouded Anglo-Russian relations, but Prime Minister Tony Blair said Tuesday that police were determined to find out who was responsible for Litvinenko's death.
"The police investigation will proceed, and I think people should know that there is no diplomatic or political barrier in the way of that investigation," Blair told reporters during a trip to Copenhagen, Denmark. "It is obviously a very, very serious matter indeed. We are determined to find out what happened and who is responsible."
London police say they are investigating the case as a "suspicious death" rather than murder, although they have devoted a large anti-terrorist force to the investigation.
Following Litvinenko's death, more than 1,100 people called a health hotline over concerns they may be at risk from polonium poisoning, which is deadly in tiny amounts if ingested or inhaled. Sixty-eight have been referred to health authorities, the Health Protection Agency said _ including the 49 hospital staff.
Eight have been referred to a special clinic as a precaution. The tests should take about a week.
Traces of radiation have been found at six sites visited by the ex-spy, including the central London office of self-exiled Russian billionaire and Litvinenko mentor Boris Berezovsky.
Police also have found traces of radiation at a bar in London's Millennium Hotel, a branch of Itsu Sushi restaurant near Piccadilly Circus, Litvinenko's house in North London and a section of the hospital where he was treated.
Polonium-210 also was found in a building in the posh Mayfair neighborhood that houses Erinys UK Ltd., an international security and risk management company.
Police widened their search Tuesday, testing a new London office building and the luxury Hilton Park Lane Hotel. Preliminary testing found no radiation in public areas of the hotel, health officials said.
A coroner will perform an autopsy on Litvinenko on Friday, "subject to appropriate precautions," in a bid to pin down the cause and circumstances of the death, said the local authority responsible, Camden Council.
Doctors had sought expert advice on whether Litvinenko's radioactive body posed a threat to the doctors and technicians performing the post-mortem.
A coroner's inquest will be opened Thursday and then adjourned until the police investigation is complete, the council said.
One of the last people to see the dead man before he fell ill was being held under tight security and was also being tested for contamination with radioactive polonium-210.
Italian security expert Mario Scaramella told The Associated Press he was in London to cooperate with the police investigation .
Scaramella said he was being protected by a security team and would be tested for traces of polonium-210. Scaramella, an academic who helped investigate KGB activity in Italy during the Cold War, declined to say whether he would be questioned by police.
Scaramella has said that he met Litvinenko at a London sushi restaurant on Nov. 1, the day the former spy reported falling ill. Scaramella said he showed Litvinenko e-mails from a confidential source identifying the possible killers of Russian investigative journalist Anna Politkovskaya and listing other potential targets for assassination — including himself and Litvinenko.