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Britain Poisoning Probe
Emergency workers in military protective suits search the fenced off John Baker House for homeless people on Rollestone Street in Salisbury, England, Friday, July 6, 2018. British police are scouring sections of Salisbury and Amesbury in southwest England, searching for a container feared to be contaminated with traces of the deadly nerve agent Novichok. (AP Photo/Matt Dunham)

UK police race to find source of new nerve agent poisoning

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By: MATT DUNHAM and GREGORY KATZ , Associated Press

AMESBURY, England (AP) — British police scoured sections of Salisbury and Amesbury in southwest England on Friday, searching for a small vial feared to be contaminated with traces of the deadly nerve agent Novichok.

Russia Britain Poisoning Probe
FILE - In this Saturday, May 20, 2000 file photo, two Russian soldiers make a routine check of metal containers with toxic agents at a chemical weapons storage site in the town of Gorny, 124 miles (200 kms) south of the Volga River city of Saratov, Russia. The Novichok _ a lethal nerve agent that nearly killed a former Russian spy and his daughter in March and recently sickened another couple in England, is a product of a highly secretive Soviet chemical weapons program. (AP Photo, File)

More than 100 officers were looking for clues in a race to understand how two local people were exposed to a nerve agent that was produced in the Soviet Union during the Cold War.

Police, Firefighters, respond to Novichok Incident

Police believe the couple may have come in contact with a contaminated vial or other item discarded in a public place after a March nerve agent attack on ex-Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter, Yulia, in Salisbury. British officials blamed the Skripals' poisoning on Russia. The Kremlin denies any involvement

Britain Poisoning Probe
A police officer guards metal fencing erected on the end of Rollestone Street, the location of the John Baker House for homeless people in Salisbury, England, Thursday, July 5, 2018. For the second time in four months, two people lie critically ill in England's Salisbury District Hospital after being exposed to a military-grade nerve agent developed in the Soviet Union, British police confirmed late Wednesday. (AP Photo/Matt Dunham)

The two new victims — Dawn Sturgess, 44, and Charlie Rowley, 45 — are in critical condition and were hospitalized Saturday after falling ill within hours of each other. At first authorities thought they might have had a bad drug reaction.

Ben Jordan, a friend, described Rowley as a scavenger who would pick up cigarette butts from the ground and often go through the trash cans outside charity shops in search of something he could use or sell.

"Anything and everything to sell, to survive, to use," Jordan said. "What the charity shop doesn't want, he will fix it or sell it or use it for himself."

Britain Poisoning Probe
Members of the media stand outside a police cordon stopping people seeing a property shielded from view, around to the left out the picture, that police have been guarding in Amesbury, England, Thursday, July 5, 2018. British officials were seeking clues Thursday in the rush to understand how two Britons were exposed to the military-grade nerve agent Novichok. (AP Photo/Matt Dunham)

His habit raises the possibility that Rowley might have picked up a used receptacle or another type of contaminated item while rummaging through trash.

Experts say just a few milligrams of the odorless Novichok liquid — the weight of a snowflake — is enough to kill a person within minutes. But finding residue before it poisons unwitting victims is the problem.

Police in special protective gear and breathing apparatus are conducting an extensive search at the John Baker House in Salisbury, where Sturgess was living before the poisoning.

Britain Poisoning Probe
Workers help erect metal fencing on the end of Rollestone Street, next to the John Baker House for homeless people at right, in Salisbury, England, Thursday, July 5, 2018. British officials were seeking clues Thursday in the rush to understand how two Britons were exposed to the military-grade nerve agent Novichok. (AP Photo/Matt Dunham)

It is listed by the Homeless Link charity as a supported living situation for "single homeless people and those in a vulnerable housing situation."

Its residents have been placed in other housing while the search continues.

Scientists say there's no easy way to use technology to locate the container thought to be the source of the Novichok. Instead, there will have to be a laborious physical search of suspected sites.

Alastair Hay, Professor Emeritus of Environmental Toxicology at the University of Leeds, said there is "no specific method for the detection of Novichoks in the environment" because the use of the nerve agent was not considered likely when monitors were designed.

Britain Poisoning Probe
Police at the scene where counter-terrorism officers are investigating after a couple were left in a critical condition, in Amesbury, England, Thursday, July 5, 2018. For the second time in four months, two people lie critically ill in England's Salisbury District Hospital after being exposed to a military-grade nerve agent developed in the Soviet Union, British police confirmed late Wednesday. (Steve Parsons/PA via AP)

That means authorities will have to take soil and vegetation samples from sites where it's possible the nerve agent was present and painstakingly test the samples to see if there is any contamination.

A number of sites are being searched in the town of Amesbury, where the couple fell ill, and the nearby city of Salisbury, where the Skripals were poisoned. Forensic searches were due to be carried out at the Amesbury home where Sturgess and Rowley collapsed, and other sites the couple visited before they were sickened.

British Home Secretary Sajid Javid told Parliament on Thursday that it's time for Russia to explain "exactly what has gone on."

Britain Poisoning Probe
An exterior view shows Charlie's Store open as usual, in which CCTV from inside appeared to show Dawn Sturgess the day before she became seriously ill, in Salisbury, England, Friday, July 6, 2018. British police have confirmed that a man and woman critically ill from nerve-agent poisoning were exposed to the toxin by handling a contaminated item. (AP Photo/Matt Dunham)

"It is completely unacceptable for our people to be either deliberate or accidental targets, or for our streets, our parks, our towns to be dumping grounds for poison," Javid said.

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