NOEL KING, HOST:
Officials in the U.K. are calling on Russia to cooperate in the investigation of the poisoning of two British citizens. They were exposed to the nerve agent Novichok. That's the same substance that almost killed a former Russian agent and his daughter earlier this year. The two new cases were in a town close to Salisbury, where the earlier poisoning happened. Counterterror police are investigating, and Alice Fordham has this story from London.
ALICE FORDHAM, BYLINE: It began on Saturday in the town of Amesbury, Wiltshire, where a woman and a man collapsed and were taken to the hospital in nearby Salisbury. Initially, it was believed they had taken contaminated drugs. But after suspicion about their symptoms, samples were sent to a nearby government laboratory. Late last night, Britain's top counterterror police officer, Neil Basu, announced the results.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
NEIL BASU: Following the detailed analysis of those samples, we can confirm that the man and woman have been exposed to the nerve agent Novichok, which has been identified as the same nerve agent that contaminated both Yulia and Sergei Skripal.
FORDHAM: That Russian defector and his daughter nearly died after they were exposed to the substance earlier in the year. British Prime Minister Theresa May said then it was highly likely Russia was to blame. Either the state had tried to assassinate Skripal or it had lost control of the deadly substance. The U.K., along with the U.S. and its European allies, expelled dozens of Russian diplomats in response. Russia denied the attack. Chemical weapons expert Hamish de Bretton-Gordon says these new cases seem severe.
HAMISH DE BRETTON-GORDON: The two who have been exposed to Novichok had quite a high dose.
FORDHAM: On this occasion, though, the two people had no apparent connection with Russia. They are British and local to the area.
DE BRETTON-GORDON: I think they were contaminated or self-contaminated. I think it's pretty clear this wasn't an attack.
FORDHAM: De Bretton-Gordon says the original container of the poison was never found and could have been discarded somewhere and that even a few molecules of Novichok can be highly toxic. Some places, including a park and drugstore where the two are thought to have been prior to their collapse, are now sealed off. For NPR News, I'm Alice Fordham in London.
(SOUNDBITE OF E-VAX'S "PROCESS OF LEAVING") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.