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Undark and the Radium Girls

Article #244 • Written by Alan Bellows

In 1922, a bank teller named Grace Fryer became concerned when her teeth began to loosen and fall out for no discernible reason. Her troubles were compounded when her jaw became swollen and inflamed, so she sought the assistance of a doctor in diagnosing the inexplicable symptoms. Using a primitive X-ray machine, the physician discovered serious bone decay, the likes of which he had never seen. Her jawbone was honeycombed with small holes, in a random pattern reminiscent of moth-eaten fabric.

As a series of doctors attempted to solve Grace's mysterious ailment, similar cases began to appear throughout her hometown of New Jersey. One dentist in particular took notice of the unusually high number of deteriorated jawbones among local women, and it took very little investigation to discover a common thread; all of the women had been employed by the same watch-painting factory at one time or another.

In 1902, twenty years prior to Grace's mysterious ailment, inventor William J. Hammer left Paris with a curious souvenir. The famous scientists Pierre and Marie Curie had provided him with some samples of their radium salt crystals. Radioactivity was somewhat new to science, so its properties and dangers were not well understood; but the radium's slight blue-green glow and natural warmth indicated that it was clearly a fascinating material. Hammer went on to combine his radium salt with glue and a compound called zinc sulfide which glowed in the presence of radiation. The result was glow-in-the-dark paint.

Hammer's recipe was used by the US Radium Corporation during the First World War to produce Undark, a high-tech paint which allowed America's infantrymen to read their wristwatches and instrument panels at night. They also marketed the pigment for non-military products such as house numbers, pistol sights, light switch plates, and glowing eyes for toy dolls. By this time the dangers of radium were better understood, but US Radium assured the public that their paint used the radioactive element in "such minute quantities that it is absolutely harmless." While this was true of the products themselves, the amount of radium present in the dial-painting factory was much more dangerous, unbeknownst to the workers there.

US Radium employed hundreds of women at their factory in Orange, New Jersey, including Grace Fryer. Few companies at that time were willing to employ women, and the pay was much higher than most alternatives, so the company had little trouble finding employees to occupy the rows and rows of desks. They were required to paint delicate lines with fine-tipped brushes, applying the Undark to the tiny numbers and indicator hands of wristwatches. After a few strokes a brush tended to lose its shape, so the women's managers encouraged them to use their lips and tongues to keep the tips of the camel hair brushes sharp and clean. The glowing paint was completely flavorless, and the supervisors assured them that rosy cheeks would be the only physical side effect to swallowing the radium-laced pigment. Cause for concern was further reduced by the fact that radium was being marketed as a medical elixir for treating all manner of ailments.

A US Radium dial painting factory
A US Radium dial painting factory

The owners and scientists at US Radium, familiar with the real hazards of radioactivity, naturally took extensive precautions to protect themselves. They knew that Undark's key ingredient was approximately one million times more active than uranium, so company chemists often used lead screens, masks, and tongs when working with the paint. US Radium had even distributed literature to the medical community describing the "injurious effects" of radium. But inside the factory, where nearly every surface sparkled with radioluminescence, these dangers were unknown. For a lark, some of the women even painted their fingernails and teeth with radium paint on occasion, to surprise their boyfriends when the lights went out.

In 1925, three years after Grace's health problems began, a doctor suggested that her jaw problems may have had something to do with her former job at US Radium. As she began to explore the possibility, a specialist from Columbia University named Frederick Flynn asked to examine her. Flynn declared her to be in fine health. It would be some time before anyone discovered that Flynn was not a doctor, nor was he licensed to practice medicine, rather he was a toxicologist on the US Radium payroll. A "colleague" who had been present during the examination-- and who had confirmed the healthy diagnosis-- turned out to be one of the vice-presidents of US Radium. Many of the Undark painters had been developing serious bone-related problems, particularly in the jaw, and the company had begun a concerted effort to conceal the cause of the disease. The mysterious deaths were often blamed on syphilis to undermine the womens' reputations, and many doctors and dentists inexplicably cooperated with the powerful company's disinformation campaign.

In the early 1920s, US Radium hired the Harvard physiology professor Cecil Drinker to study the working conditions in the factory. Drinker's report was grave, indicating a heavily contaminated work force, and unusual blood conditions in virtually everyone who worked there. The report which the company provided to the New Jersey Department of Labor credited Cecil Drinker as the author, however the ominous descriptions of unhealthy conditions were replaced with glowing praise, stating that "every girl is in perfect condition." Even worse, US Radium's president disregarded all of the advice in Drinker's original report, making none of the recommended changes to protect the workers.

The fraudulent report was discovered by a colleague of Drinker's named Alice Hamilton in 1925. Her letter prompted Drinker to make the information public by publishing his original report in a scientific journal. US Radium executives were furious, and threatened legal action, but Drinker published his findings nonetheless. Among other things, his report stated:

"Dust samples collected in the workroom from various locations and from chairs not used by the workers were all luminous in the dark room. Their hair, faces, hands, arms, necks, the dresses, the underclothes, even the corsets of the dial painters were luminous. One of the girls showed luminous spots on her legs and thighs. The back of another was luminous almost to the waist...."

US Radium was a defense contractor with deep pockets and influential contacts, so it took Grace Fryer two years to find a lawyer willing to take on her former employer. A young attorney from Newark named Raymond Berry filed the suit in 1927, and four other radium-injured dial painters soon joined in. They sought $250,000 each in damages.

A severe instance of "Radium jaw" from 1924
A severe instance of "Radium jaw" from 1924

As the legal battle ensued, New York dentist Joseph P. Knef examined the jawbone from one of the deceased dial painters named Amelia Maggia. In the last few months of her life the bone had become so decayed that Dr. Knef had been forced to remove it from his patient. Her official cause of death had been listed as syphilis, but Knef suspected otherwise. He exposed the bone to dental film for a time, and then developed it. Patterns on the film indicated an absurd level of radiation, and he confirmed the findings with an electroscope.

As the weeks and months were consumed by the slow-moving court system, the women's health rapidly deteriorated. At their first appearance in court in January 1928, two were bedridden, and none could raise their arms to take the oath. Grace Fryer, still described by reporters as "pretty," was unable to walk, required a back brace to sit up, and had lost all of her teeth. The "Radium Girls" began appearing in headlines nationwide, and the grim descriptions of their hopeless condition reached Marie Curie in Paris. "I would be only too happy to give any aid that I could," she said, adding, "there is absolutely no means of destroying the substance once it enters the human body."

The women proved too ill to attend the following hearing, which occurred in April. Despite strenuous objections from the women's lawyer, the judge adjourned the case until September because several US Radium witnesses were summering in Europe, and would consequently be unavailable. Walter Lippmann, the editor of the influential New York World newspaper, wrote of the judge's decision, calling it a "damnable travesty of justice... There is no possible excuse for such a delay. The women are dying. If ever a case called for prompt adjudication, it is the case of five crippled women who are fighting for a few miserable dollars to ease their last days on earth." In a later editorial, he wrote, "This is a heartless proceeding. It is unmanly, unjust and cruel. This is a case which calls not for fine-spun litigation but for simple, quick, direct justice."

The national outrage over the delay prompted the courts to reschedule the hearing for early June, but days before the trial, Raymond Berry and US Radium agreed to allow U.S. District Court Judge William Clark to mediate an out-of-court settlement. Berry and the Radium Girls accepted their opponent's offer reluctantly, despite learning that their mediator was a US Radium Corporation stockholder. Their situation was too desperate to refuse; the women were not expected to live much longer. Each woman would receive $10,000-- equivalent to about $100,000 today-- and have all of their medical and legal expenses paid. They would also receive a $600 per year annuity for as long as they lived. Unsurprisingly, few of the annuity payments were collected.

A US Radium ad for "Undark" paint
A US Radium ad for "Undark" paint

The last of the famous Radium Girls died in the 1930s, and many other former factory workers died of radium poisoning without finding justice. Later medical research would determine that radium behaves much like calcium inside the body, causing it to concentrate in the teeth and bones. By shaping their brushes with their lips as instructed by their knowledgeable supervisors, the dial painters had ingested anywhere from a few hundred to a few thousand microcuries of radium per year. One tenth of a microcurie is now considered to be the maximum safe exposure. Marie Curie herself died of radiation-related ailments in 1934. Because radium has a half-life of 1,600 years, her lab notebooks are said to be too highly contaminated to be safely handled even today. Radium continued to be used to illuminate watches until about 1968, but under much safer conditions.

It is uncertain how many people were sickened or killed by Undark and similar radioactive pigments over the years, but US Radium alone employed an estimated 4,000 radium dial painters. Though they were not the only radium-painting business in the US, they were arguably the most evil. However one positive development did appear in the wake of the women's legal struggle and subsequent media attention; In 1949 the US Congress passed a bill making all occupational diseases compensable, and extended the time during which workers could discover illnesses and make a claim. Thanks to the Radium Girls and their success in bringing attention to the deplorable conditions in US factories, industrial safety standards in the US were significantly tightened over the following years, an improvement which definitely spared countless others from similar fates.

Article written by Alan Bellows, published on 28 December 2006. Alan is the founder/designer/head writer/managing editor of Damn Interesting.

Article design and artwork by Alan Bellows.
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131 Comments
Aero
Posted 29 December 2006 at 12:13 am

This is a pretty sad article. I wish they had been saved earlier. I can't believe the factory hid all of this. :(


systmh
Posted 29 December 2006 at 12:20 am

wow. such horrible safety practices were acceptable back then.. so obviously dangerous to us now. makes one wonder, what might our current new technologies be doing to us that we are blissfully unaware of today?


geekmorgan
Posted 29 December 2006 at 12:28 am

My grandmother painted numbers and dials on aircraft instruments during WWII in this same fashion and has been expecting cancer ever since. So far, her jaw has been fine though. I wonder what other paints they might have been using by the 40s.


Dr. Evil
Posted 29 December 2006 at 12:37 am

how horrible...that factory and the "knowledgable supervisers" should be ashamed of themselve...justice doesnt always exist does it


naser
Posted 29 December 2006 at 01:54 am

Heh... corporate cover ups the likes of which are far severe than this (at least here, they had a happy ending) occur everyday in my country (FYI, thats Bangladesh). Although, I should've felt sorry for the radium girls..but frankly I'm not being able to. Because injustice such as this has become a part of the daily-life of my countrymen. I was surprise btw, to find out that even in the U.S such things used to happen (or still happens, I don't know) a long long time ago.


damninterestingfan
Posted 29 December 2006 at 05:13 am

Well kinda sad story. Hope governments and employees can learn from it and that never happens again with other technologies like nanotechnology from which we still don't know the risks.


carlo
Posted 29 December 2006 at 06:41 am

Very nice article. Just shows how the world works, even today. If you have connections, you can get the experts to say anything you want. Just keeps me motivated to get high on the social ladder, so that I wouldn't be at the mercy of such evil men.


1c3d0g
Posted 29 December 2006 at 06:50 am

Horrible, just horrible. Scumbag companies like that should be put out of business for good!


another viewpoint
Posted 29 December 2006 at 07:03 am

...it is obvious that "greed", corporate or otherwise, has been around a lot longer than any of us would have suspected...or would like acknowledge. What is really sad, is that it is usually the employees on the bottom of the totem pole that pay the ultimate price for the decisions made by those that are SUPPOSED to know what they are doing.

Imagine if you could turn the clock ahead some 80 years on US Radium Corp...how many different gov't agencies would be climbing all over this company? They would have been shut down in a heart beat...or the entire operation would have been mechanized to eliminate any human exposure to the raw materials.

I remember reading about the Radium Girls many years ago...this is typically something that comes up with discussing/reviewing radiation subjects. Once again, Alan, another Damn Interesting story. Thanx.


Mez
Posted 29 December 2006 at 07:19 am

My school physics teacher told me about this, but not in anywhere near as much detail. It's fascinating to read more information about how evil the US Radium Corporation was.

I have a theory that styrofoam (the crumbly type) is our generation's asbestos. It's composed of small thin fibres and when it rubs my arm, my arm is itchy for the rest of the day or until I wash it.


Radiatidon
Posted 29 December 2006 at 07:28 am

It is sad that when someone’s lifestyle becomes endangered, all others are nothing more than cannon fodder. I can claim proudly that when I was accidentally exposed to lethal levels of radiation (burned all the hair off my left arm and made it and my left cheek & jaw sunburned looking) the entities involved took proper protective actions upon my behalf. I did not care for the examinations and the indignities needed, but at least I received a clean bill-of-health.

My accident occurred while I was performing a safety survey of a transmission center and the operator set the power output at 81% instead of my request of 18%. Dyslexia anyone?


student
Posted 29 December 2006 at 07:55 am

I think when they were trying to establish safety (also in the 1920s) of tetraethyl lead they used goats. I don't know if they measured cognitive ability before and after or how this is done with goats.


HarleyHetz
Posted 29 December 2006 at 08:12 am

naser said: "Heh… corporate cover ups the likes of which are far severe than this (at least here, they had a happy ending) occur everyday in my country (FYI, thats Bangladesh). Although, I should've felt sorry for the radium girls..but frankly I'm not being able to. Because injustice such as this has become a part of the daily-life of my countrymen. I was surprise btw, to find out that even in the U.S such things used to happen (or still happens, I don't know) a long long time ago."

I feel sorry for you my friend, the fact that you can not feel sorry for these women and the way they suffered, no matter what is happening in your country, may indeed by "why" some of it is taking place. I don't understand how any people can go against what seems to be so firmly engraved into my being as to treat another human being in this fashion, or in your case, to have such apathy for those who have been treated this way. You have my sympathy, and I hope that someday you come to the realization that no matter how many times things like this occur, it is never wrong to feel for those involved, and wish the most severe penalties imposed upon those who inflict this treatment on others as possible. Including those in Bangladesh!! America is in no way perfect, but I am thankful that at least MOST of us are still able to discern between right and wrong, and can offer our sympathy to our fellow human beings when they are wronged, especially when it is as unjust as this.
Those responsible did not pay the price that they should have paid for their crimes, and there is no doubt about that. But, we can take some small comfort in the fact that they did have to live with the knowledge of what they did for the rest of their lives. It's just a shame that this didn't hurt them more than whatever it did!
Thanks Alan, damn interesting article.


SteveinFinland
Posted 29 December 2006 at 08:29 am

I wonder how many lethally dangerous jobs the West still benefits from by the simple expedient of exporting them? Bhopal comes to mind.


Maven
Posted 29 December 2006 at 09:30 am

This sad story makes me think of my grandmother and a first cousin of hers. They were born in Orange, and lived in and around the Orange and Montclair, New Jersey area. Neither of them worked for this company, but lived close enough to suffer the effects of radium.

When she was a young adult, she had a goiter removed (as well as my father's mother, who also lived in Orange). She smoked for a long time and had given it up cold turkey for twenty years. Then one day in the early 80s, she was diagnosed with oral cancer. Squaemous cell carcinoma. Little bit by little bit for seven long and painful years, they removed her tongue, the entire inside of her mouth had been grafted several times, and removed part of her jawbone. Unbeknownst to her, her first cousin had been fighting the same fight.

I'll never forget the moment when we all resigned ourselves to the reality of death. St. Patrick's Day she returned from Sloane Kettering, a morphine Rx in hand, and the apology of, "... there's nothing more we can do for you" ringing in her ears.

She died one short month later on Good Friday, what I view as an auspicious day for a devout Catholic to pass away.

I remember early on with her cancer diagnosis, grandma would talk to me about the Radium Girls, specifically about how they would "sharpen" the paintbrushes by shaping them with mouths and tongues...


frenchsnake
Posted 29 December 2006 at 09:33 am

Does anyone know what compound they use for glow-in-the-dark watches and such now?


dylanfan
Posted 29 December 2006 at 09:38 am

It makes me wonder what kinds of things we are ingesting and working with today that are considered "perfectly safe" that we will find out years from now cause irreversible damage. I'm sure there are many things, and it's kind of scary how far people will go to cover these things up. Very interesting article.


Ryly
Posted 29 December 2006 at 09:39 am

SteveinFinland said: "I wonder how many lethally dangerous jobs the West still benefits from by the simple expedient of exporting them? ..."

A quick search on the web yields a number of .orgs that work to protect human rights and fight worker abuses. If you were really touched by this story, and are aware that abuses similar to this continue, read up - perhaps you can help!


misanthrope
Posted 29 December 2006 at 10:48 am

frenchsnake said: "Does anyone know what compound they use for glow-in-the-dark watches and such now?"

Usually a paint containing phosphorus that needs 'charging' from UV source, but will then glow for a few hours. The UV radiation excites the phosphor atoms, storing energy in them by knocking electrons into a higher orbit. This energy is released gradually over time as visible light when the electrons return to their normal orbit. (I have no idea why it doesn't all just get released at once though... anyone?). There's other materials too, but I think phospurus is still the most common.

Radium paint glows by itself for reference, no charging required. The radiation was providing the energy to create the light, rather than it being stored from UV. That's one of the ways you check if you have a radium-watch or not - put it in a completely dark place for a couple of days and then see if it still glows.


benguyver
Posted 29 December 2006 at 10:55 am

Curiously interesting… I remember receiving a bookmarker in Church school for learning memory verses from the bible. The year was in the late 50’s to early 60’s. It use to hang on our bedroom wall, when very young my sister and I shared a bed room in a Chicago brown stone…

This particular bookmarker had the picture of Christ and a glowing cross that was glued on to a deep blue shield.

I vividly remember placing the cross next to the incandescent light on the nightstand to make it glow very brightly when the lights were out. While playing around with the marker I remember finding that if I rubbed the surface of the cross on my hand I could see the outline of the bone structure very faintly.

SO… the next thing I tried was rubbing it all over my face and mouth… when I went to the bathroom I was scared out of my wit’s looking into the mirror in the dark was a distinct skeletal reflection of my face and teeth.

To this day I have often wondered about what ever happened to that bookmarker…
At 51 years of age I am glad that neither my sister nor I suffered any ill effects from the substance that the marker was made of.


Radiatidon
Posted 29 December 2006 at 11:17 am

misanthrope said: "Radium paint glows by itself for reference, no charging required. The radiation was providing the energy to create the light, rather than it being stored from UV. That's one of the ways you check if you have a radium-watch or not - put it in a completely dark place for a couple of days and then see if it still glows."

As misanthrope stated most “glow in the dark” devices utilize chemical luminescence paint. Basically you expose it to a light source and it will emit a gradually diminishing glow. No harmful radioactive material there.

Then there is the chemical glow sticks. They emit a cold light due to the “mixing” of two chemicals. They also have a limited life span and no radioactive emissions.

The only way you could have Radium induced glow is if the watch was manufactured in the early 60’s or the item (glowing painted toy or item) was manufactured before the mid 1940’s. Otherwise the all night radiation induced glow will be from a radioactive isotope of hydrogen called tritium. Its low-energy beta radiation bounces off human skin. The only way to get sick from this stuff is to ingest it in vast quantities. Also its half-life is like twelve to thirteen years. Tritium induced glow is widely used today in many avenues, such as exit signs.


jkschlitz
Posted 29 December 2006 at 11:24 am

HarleyHetz said: "America is in no way perfect, but I am thankful that at least MOST of us are still able to discern between right and wrong, and can offer our sympathy to our fellow human beings when they are wronged, especially when it is as unjust as this."

I don't think it's that Americans are able to discern right and wrong more than Bangladeshis. I think the difference is that we have laws in place to protect workers, and companies are afraid to break them. It all comes down to money. People who have as little concern for their fellow man as the management at US Radium exist all over the world, it's just that some places keep them in check better than others. I hope Bangladesh takes steps to punish such behavior like the US has.


bdowne01
Posted 29 December 2006 at 02:07 pm

Oh man. When growing up, I had an old Westclox wind-up alarm clock that I kept next to my bed for years. I knew it was old based on its cool looks alone, but I liked the fact that it would emit a dull white-green glow all night. The actual paint material was fascinating, and some had broken out of the hands and was laying at the bottom of the dial. Naturally, I took the clock face off and played with the chips for a while.

I always wondered how that stuff would glow all night when my lousy glow in the dark stickers would only last a few minutes. Now I know I received a minor dose of radiation. Damn interesting indeed!


Kourage
Posted 29 December 2006 at 03:22 pm

Makes me wonder what things we do to this day that we don't know the long term consequences of. To use any form of radiation for something like this in this day and age seems absurd, but in the past things like mercury and and lead and even recently asbestos have been used quite freely. Its a big, scary world out there.


Coherent
Posted 29 December 2006 at 03:37 pm

I had several radium watches as a child. I knew they were 'radioactive' but nobody could ever tell me why radiation was bad, what exactly it did to you that hurt you. Nowadays I could tell you in an instant.

However, this is mostly a story of workplace atrocity, how those with knowledge and money and power abused the helpless and ignorant.

It happens all the time, but please, all of you... if you ever see this happen, strike a blow for justice. Fight back against the exploiters, don't just nod and smile when ordinary people are enslaved by ignorance. It could be you or your children next time.


SparkyTWP
Posted 29 December 2006 at 03:45 pm

frenchsnake said: "Does anyone know what compound they use for glow-in-the-dark watches and such now?"

Most use the chemical luminescence described above. You can also get watches and other gadgets that glow radioactively from tritium (An isotope of hydrogen). Tritium is much safer than radium, although there is still an inherent risk during manufacture since you have so much of it in one location. It's difficult to find these in the US because the laws are very strict here, but you can get them from the UK and other places. It has a half-life of about 10 years.


Drakvil
Posted 29 December 2006 at 05:37 pm

Rather than take this whole story as nothing but an example of how some people in one company were evil, we should look at this as an object lesson. As they say about J. P. Morgan, he didn't break any laws but a lot of laws were written because of him. So if you look at the state of this country today, it is much better in regards to this type of issue than it was before the Radium Girls were introduced to their unfortunate fate.

There were no types of employee safeguards in most industries back then and it was a common employer practice (as I learned from a tour of a ghost town mine) that when workers suffered horrific injuries that cost them their health and limbs, the way the employers looked at it was, "he's not able to do his job anymore, so I have no choice but to let him go and find someone who can." No compensation of any kind was ever offered or expected, and this was from the same time period as this article.

Today, every substance that people come into contact with is given large amounts of scrutiny from experts all over the country, and sometimes the world, before it can be released for use by the public, so it isn't practically possible for a substance to be used here without knowing largely what risks are involved. If some company attempted to pull a fake doctor out of the woodwork to pronounce someone "in perfect health", you can bet there will be second opinions sought and the credentials of the first doctor would be checked. If a company rewrote a contracted experts report conclusions and recommendations, the lawsuit and public backlash from the publicity would ruin that company, if not a majority of the industry, in short term.

If someone today were to contract an affliction that was life-threatening, but even curable, from their work environment and the employer provided misinformation about it, do you think the resulting lawsuit would even be able to cover the plaintiffs lawyer's fee with what those poor Radium Girls got as a settlement (in adjusted dollars)[$100k]? I think current plaintiffs would be getting judgements on the order of $3-25 million.

I'm not saying we should overlook the evil of what the company did or the tragic things that happened to the girls, but we should also see the good that their bravery in standing up and fighting, then instituting responsible legislation has brought us. This is also a great lesson for people in other countries to learn so they don't have to repeat mistakes like this at home, but institute reforms before a tragedy of a larger scale strikes.


junebee
Posted 29 December 2006 at 06:36 pm

I was well aware of the Triangle Shirtwaist Company fire, which seems to stand in history as the ultimate disregard of employee safety. And being from PA, I was familiar with the abuses of coal mining employees, but this is the first time I heard about the Radiation Girls. Damn. Interesting.


spectorjay
Posted 29 December 2006 at 07:49 pm

They're not done harming people (US Radium) - the old factory is an EPA Superfund clean-up site.


PresMatt
Posted 29 December 2006 at 08:20 pm

Radiatidon said: "I can claim proudly that when I was accidentally exposed to lethal levels of radiation (burned all the hair off my left arm and made it and my left cheek & jaw sunburned looking) the entities involved took proper protective actions upon my behalf. I did not care for the examinations and the indignities needed, but at least I received a clean bill-of-health.


My accident occurred while I was performing a safety survey of a transmission center and the operator set the power output at 81% instead of my request of 18%. Dyslexia anyone?"

Hey, you've gotta look at the brite side of accidents and tragedies such as this... I mean, how many people can say they've been irradiated enough to cause a "sunburn?" Despite the obvious pain and suffering involved and the possible long term side effects... at least you have a cool story to tell and an interesting forum name.

As for me, I've worked around high power AM/FM transmitters for the last 9 years, so I wouldn't be too surprised if the RF doesn't at least fry my little buddies, if you get my drift =/


fecalmatters
Posted 29 December 2006 at 10:09 pm

And don't forget 'The Jungle' by Upton Sinclair. But in that case the industry didn't inspire change. The book did.


Stephen
Posted 29 December 2006 at 11:35 pm

While gross injustices such as what the Radium Girls suffered are far less common in the US at present, they still happen with disturbing frequency. Agent Orange, Love Canal, Gulf War Syndrome, PG&E in Hinkley, Calif., and the supposedly "perfectly safe" air quality around Ground Zero on 9/11 are just the most obvious examples. I'm sure the readers here could find dozens of additional situations.

What's even worse than soulless corporate executives and the evil empires they support are the greedy government officials that allow them to profit at the expense of the lives of the unaware. Corporations aren't as evil as they once were, but only because it's not as easy, not because they grew a soul.


AntEconomist
Posted 30 December 2006 at 12:21 am

Stephen said: "What's even worse than soulless corporate executives and the evil empires they support are the greedy government officials that allow them to profit at the expense of the lives of the unaware. Corporations aren't as evil as they once were, but only because it's not as easy, not because they grew a soul."

Corporations are neither good nor evil -- they are legal constructs. It is the people who run them that are good or evil. There is as much likelihood for a pauper to be evil as there is for a CEO. The apparent difference is an observation bias -- the pauper doesn't garner headlines when he steals, but the CEO does. Yes, there is a difference in the magnitude of what is stolen but that difference reflects not degree of evil but scope of opportunity.


SparkyTWP
Posted 30 December 2006 at 12:57 am

I wouldn't lump Love Canal as a corporate injustice. It was quite obviously the local school board's fault with the company actually being quite responsible, especially when you consider that there were no government regulations at the time for toxic waste. The comments section of the damninteresting article about love canal explains it quite well, so I won't bother going into detail here.

The PG&E Hinkley incident is also incorrectly spun. There is no evidence that water-based chromium 6 is harmful and there was no increase in diseases from it. It was all a hype created by lawyers to drum up support and clients. Also, the company was reporting and cleaning up the spill, exactly as they were legally required to do so.

There are more appropriate examples of corporate abuse such as the Berkeley Pit in Butte, Montana, or the Bhopal disaster that show carelessness or neglect.


bhassi
Posted 30 December 2006 at 02:31 am

Poor radium girls...this story is very sad....:(


Mememe
Posted 30 December 2006 at 04:02 am

Well they're still doing such things just not in the developed countries. Dow Chemichals anyone? Why I bet that at least 50% of CEO's of DOW30 companies should be jailed for doing such thing in countries like China, India etc. where there's no law to come in the way between them and profit. (no evil and useless socialist rights as a true capitalist would say)


HarleyHetz
Posted 30 December 2006 at 08:02 am

jkschlitz said: "I don't think it's that Americans are able to discern right and wrong more than Bangladeshis. I think the difference is that we have laws in place to protect workers, and companies are afraid to break them. It all comes down to money. People who have as little concern for their fellow man as the management at US Radium exist all over the world, it's just that some places keep them in check better than others. I hope Bangladesh takes steps to punish such behavior like the US has."

I guess the point I was trying to make is that as a whole, Americans seem to be more compassionate about things such as this, and perhaps that is why we have created the laws that we have. But, you are correct, the laws are most likely what keeps most of the "evil corporate naer do wells" in check, not their compassion. It is the compassion of the American people that have driven us to create the laws to protect the innocent. Some of the other countries, and I admit to being ignorant of Bangladesh and it's inhabitants, seem to be less so on the whole. I have visited several other countries, and for those of you who haven't, I can assure you that at least for me (and Dorothy) "there's no place like home".


pebecker
Posted 30 December 2006 at 09:06 am

Radiatidon said: "It is sad that when someone’s lifestyle becomes endangered, all others are nothing more than cannon fodder. I can claim proudly that when I was accidentally exposed to lethal levels of radiation (burned all the hair off my left arm and made it and my left cheek & jaw sunburned looking) the entities involved took proper protective actions upon my behalf. I did not care for the examinations and the indignities needed, but at least I received a clean bill-of-health.

My accident occurred while I was performing a safety survey of a transmission center and the operator set the power output at 81% instead of my request of 18%. Dyslexia anyone?"

What is a "transmission center"? If you mean RF, then you were exposed to a non-ionizing energy. That is markedly different than a nuclear-sourced type.


1MillionthRegistrati
Posted 30 December 2006 at 10:47 am

The article contains factually misleading information. RE:

... Because radium has a half-life of 1,600 years, her lab notebooks are said to be too highly contaminated to be safely handled even today. ..."

Also, in a comment:

" ... tritium. Its low-energy beta radiation bounces off human skin. The only way to get sick from this stuff is to ingest it in vast quantities. Also its half-life is like twelve to thirteen years. ..."

Both these completely misrepresent what "half-life" means in terms of danger from radiation, and it's a very common problem. In the first comment (from the article) it's implied ("because it has a half-life of ... ") that it's dangerouse due to a long half life of 1,600 years. This is a short half life, and that is partly why it's so dangerous. Similarly, the second post states tritium has a half-life of 12 or 13 years, and it's implied that is why it's much safer. This is simply incorrect and the opposite of the true nature of half-life.

In layman's terms, the half-life represents the time it takes for half the stored radiation to be emitted. If an object has a half life of a billion years, then it's quite safe; it will take a billion years for half the stored radiation to emit, which is another way of saying very little radiation per exposure over a brief time (eg a minute). Similarly, a half-life of "12 or 13 years" is extremely radioactive; in that time half the material will have radiated away (sort of; actually only the radioactive elements, but you get the idea. Uranium turns to Lead once it's radioactive elements have left in a billion or three years; the elements that make it Uranium are no longer there).

Think of Radium, with a half-life of 1,600 years compared to a hunk of granite that will still be granite in 5 billion years. Granite doesn't emit much radiation does it? Radium will turn into a different element in a few thousand years; what makes it Radium today will have left it (radiated away).

Now, it's true that Radium and Tritium are vastly different safety-wise, but it's because of the nature of the radiation (Alpha, Beta, Gamma, etc). Tritium has Alpha radiation and even though it's much more radioactive than Radium, it's safe radiation (dead skin cells can stop it). Radium is much less radioactive, but what radiation it does have passes straight through your body, damaging it along the way. That's why it's so dangerous; the half life, by itself, represents nothing at all by way of telling us how dangerous it is whithout reference to the type of radiation it's emitting. Were it Alpha radiation, it would be many times safer than Tritium.

It drives me nuts when people talk about half-life like it represents some measure of danger the longer it is: it actually represents a measure of safety the longer it is. However, some forms of radiation are dangerous no matter how much radiation per minute (or whatever time you choose to select).

These poor girls were exposed to the most dangerous type of radiation. They were exposed over a very long period of time. And they were exposed in the most dangerous manner: radioactive elements you eat are thousands of times more damaging that radiation you touch or are near. Never eat, drink or smoke when exposed to radioactive elements, because even if you are told they are safe (ie in a brief exposure, like, say, Uranium metal) they mean by exposure; eat it or breathe it and you are in another league of danger altogether, and relataively benign elements like Uranium metal will be very damaging if injested (it will stay in the body, increasing your exposure level to, essentially, you whole life. That level over that time span is not safe).


Erados
Posted 30 December 2006 at 10:57 am

Maven said: "This sad story makes me think of my grandmother and a first cousin of hers. They were born in Orange, and lived in and around the Orange and Montclair, New Jersey area. Neither of them worked for this company, but lived close enough to suffer the effects of radium.

When she was a young adult, she had a goiter removed (as well as my father's mother, who also lived in Orange). She smoked for a long time and had given it up cold turkey for twenty years. Then one day in the early 80s, she was diagnosed with oral cancer. Squaemous cell carcinoma. Little bit by little bit for seven long and painful years, they removed her tongue, the entire inside of her mouth had been grafted several times, and removed part of her jawbone. Unbeknownst to her, her first cousin had been fighting the same fight.

I'll never forget the moment when we all resigned ourselves to the reality of death. St. Patrick's Day she returned from Sloane Kettering, a morphine Rx in hand, and the apology of, "… there's nothing more we can do for you" ringing in her ears.

She died one short month later on Good Friday, what I view as an auspicious day for a devout Catholic to pass away.

I remember early on with her cancer diagnosis, grandma would talk to me about the Radium Girls, specifically about how they would "sharpen" the paintbrushes by shaping them with mouths and tongues…"

I'm gonna call your bluff on this one... That just doesn't sound believable for some reason.
Why didn't hundreds of others suffer this just for living NEAR the area? I think that would've definitely been mentioned somewhere. I don't understand how your grandmother could've talked to you specifically about the sharpening-with-lips-and-tongues, 60 years down the road (you said early 80's, this happened in the early 20's) while she herself was probably not going to live? It sounds harsh, but I'd remember more the wearing of the glowing dress, or something...


ConcernedCitizen
Posted 30 December 2006 at 11:16 am

@1MillionthRegistrati: If Radium had a half-life of say.... 10 years... would the Curie notebooks still be too contaminated to be handled today? I think that's the reason he would point out the long half-life of Radium. You're right though, the consequences of long vs. short half-life are counterintuitive.


SparkyTWP
Posted 30 December 2006 at 11:28 am

HarleyHetz said: "I guess the point I was trying to make is that as a whole, Americans seem to be more compassionate about things such as this, and perhaps that is why we have created the laws that we have."

I don't think people in other countries are any less compassionate for the most part (After all, don't forget that America is made up of people from those countries). What it basically comes down to is that most countries are poor and are desperate for outside investment. So they relax some environmental or liability laws and let businesses go to town just so some of their people can be employed. Whether laws are created to avoid future incidents is dependant upon how much press the incident gets and how much money is at stake.

To be fair though, a lot of US laws that are meant to "protect" workers are either not necessary or incredibly bureaucratic


Rinson Drei
Posted 30 December 2006 at 12:48 pm

On the show "History's Worst Jobs" they covered a similar incident in the early 19th century. The women who dipped self-striking matches into the phosphorus compound suffered similar problems. They were made to take their lunch breaks at their worktables, and breathed and ingested so much phosphorus that their teeth and jaws would rot away. I believe the scandal resulted in the first successful labor strike in modern history.


nikolai
Posted 30 December 2006 at 01:26 pm

There's a lotta deadly crap out there. I'm 52 yrs old, and when we were kids we would make lead soldiers by melting down lead or the old lead soldiers themselves, all the while breathing the fumes. Then we would paint them with some gnarly plastic model paint. My parents finally took the lead soldier molding set away, not because of the lead fumes but because they thought we'd burn ourselves or burn the house down. We also used to go behind the local high school and pull the flourescent bulbs out of the dumpster and break them and a mist of fine white powder would come out of them, which of course we got a whiff of. Then there was the glue we used to build our model plastic planes and cars with, lead paint and asbestos insulation in many buildings at the time, and when I was 16 I worked in construction and had to shovel out the build up of chemicals (cyanide, etc) at a plating company, and another time tear down a couple of interiors of old buildings. I grew up in New Mexico, know for it's uranium mining/deposits, and used to play all the time in some old mine shafts near my home. Supposedly they were for coal, but god only knows what all we got into. I also remember the smell of pesticides every spring, which was probably DDT. I also received a big blast in the face from a flit gun from the neighborhood bully which had me coughing my lungs out for about 30 minutes, which was probably also DDT or some other similar poison. For those of you who do not know what a flit gun is, it's a big hand held pump that people used to spray their gardens with, which used either liquid or powder ingredients. Oh, my parents also smoked a pack-a-day each, and so did 60 percent of the rest of the population everywhere you went. I also wonder if I received any radiation/fallout from any of the nuclear testing at the time, since I lived in the NW part of the state not that far from St George, Utah. I also worked in the defense electronics industry, and breathed solder fumes, tolulene, trichlor, etc. There are many more things I'm sure I'll remember later, but being around all this crap all these times over the years really makes me wonder if my health wasn't adversely affected as I do have moderate asthma and god only knows what else ...


AntEconomist
Posted 30 December 2006 at 02:50 pm

nikolai said: "There's a lotta deadly crap out there. I'm 52 yrs old..."

Another way to look at it is, despite all that exposure, you've made it to 52 yrs old when world life expectancy for a newborn in 1954 was 51.


FireDude
Posted 30 December 2006 at 03:15 pm

Radiatidon said: "As misanthrope stated most “glow in the dark” devices utilize chemical luminescence paint. Basically you expose it to a light source and it will emit a gradually diminishing glow. No harmful radioactive material there.

Then there is the chemical glow sticks. They emit a cold light due to the “mixing” of two chemicals. They also have a limited life span and no radioactive emissions."

In general, the emission of photons from an atom or molecule due to energy transitions is called photoluminescence, a term that encompases a broad range of subcategories based on the source of the energy. Today's glow-in-the-dark paints are based on a kind of fluorescence (re-emission of absorbed light) called phosphorescence (slow re-emission of absorbed light) not chemical luminescence. Detailed explanation follows (or can be found on Wiki) -- feel free to skip it. An incoming photon is absorbed by the paint, exciting the pigment to a higher energy state. Most of these promoted molecules quickly re-radiate the energy. However, once promoted, there is a small probability the excited molecule will transition into another high energy state. Because of quantum mechanics, the transition from this new state to the ground is "forbidden", and will therefore only occur very slowly. So, while normal transitions would require maybe nanoseconds (10^-9 seconds), these forbidden transitions might require a few hours (10^4 seconds). This is a half-life process just like radium decay. To use a bucket anology, we have two buckets. The highest one has a very large drain onto the ground and a very small drain into the lower one, which in turn has a small drain onto the ground. As we fill the top bucket, almost all the water dumps right out, but a very small amount drips into the lower bucket. The lower bucket slowly starts to fill until as much water is pouring into the bucket as out (The deeper the water, the faster it will drain). When we stop dumping water into the top bucket (turn out the lights), the bottom buckets continues to drip out water (glows). Since the drains are very small, it takes a long time to both fill it and empty it. The radium-based glow was from radioluminescence, or excitation of a dye compound by ionizing radioactive emission - the rate limiter in photon generation is the rate of radioactive emission. The glow from glow-sticks is chemical luminescence (or chemiluminescence), where the transitions in molecular state are caused by energy changes from chemical reaction. The rate limiting step is the time that the reactants take to mix and react. It would be possible to design a glow stick that glowed really brightly for only a few seconds. But this would be much less fun on the dance floor.

Good catch and explanation on the half-life issue, 1MillionthRegistrati.

Kinda wordy for a first post. Neat site, and DI!


Krull
Posted 30 December 2006 at 03:17 pm

ConcernedCitizen said: "@1MillionthRegistrati: If Radium had a half-life of say…. 10 years… would the Curie notebooks still be too contaminated to be handled today? I think that's the reason he would point out the long half-life of Radium. You're right though, the consequences of long vs. short half-life are counterintuitive."

I agree, 1MillionthRegistrati you have misunderstood the point being made. The shorter the half life of an element, the sooner it will decay to something else. The mention of the long half life of Radium didn't imply that it was more dangerous, it meant that it will be a long time before it is no longer radioactive and the notes safe to read.


debbiebf
Posted 30 December 2006 at 04:44 pm

Could this happen today?

Before aspartame was approved, Coca Cola wrote a letterto the FDA saying it was too dangerous and had been proven to cause brain tumors. But it went through anyway, and the FDA people who approved it got big jobs at Monsanto, and now there are more complaints to the FDA about the side effects of aspartame than all other substances combined. Studies performed by Monsanto or the FDA consistently show it is safe. Studies performed by other groups consistently show it is not.

But there is too much money behind it for the media to be able to report it without partiality. Do a search on aspartame and dangers and you will see this goes beyond the "everything is dangerous" hysteria. Something is smoking here.


Red1337Sox
Posted 30 December 2006 at 10:25 pm

What a great article. What I found even more interesting though, is all the comments. We have lots of bright interesting people on this site, and I think it adds so much. Awesome guys.


Drakvil
Posted 30 December 2006 at 11:45 pm

1MillionthRegistrati said: "The article contains factually misleading information. RE:

… Because radium has a half-life of 1,600 years, her lab notebooks are said to be too highly contaminated to be safely handled even today. …"

Also, in a comment:
" … tritium. Its low-energy beta radiation bounces off human skin. The only way to get sick from this stuff is to ingest it in vast quantities. Also its half-life is like twelve to thirteen years. …"
...
It drives me nuts when people talk about half-life like it represents some measure of danger the longer it is

I think you're getting bent out of shape a little easy here. The first quote you used just says that the notebooks were too highly contaminated way back then to be handled, and because of the long half-life that is still true today. I agree that the way it was written it is possible to misinterpret , but I think you could have just spelled out that the passage was unclear rather than crying factual error.

The second quote specifies that it is safer because it is beta radiation, and gives the half-life as an aside. You can see the word "also" right in there _after_ the point was made and before it goes on to give the half life. I think, given his history, Radiatidon (can I call you Don?) is qualified to speak on the subject.

BTW, thanks for the lesson on the origins of radioactivity in materials - I found it informative (sincerely).

debbiebf said: "Before aspartame was approved, Coca Cola wrote a letterto the FDA saying it was too dangerous and had been proven to cause brain tumors. "

If Coke really believed that aspartame was that dangerous, why are all their diet drinks full of the stuff? It would seem obvious to me that they would be really opening themselves up for the inevitable lawsuits if it was proven that they not only knew but truly believed the stuff was dangerous and sold it to hundreds of millions of people. That would be a crime surpassing even that of the tobacco companies, since they didn't start out knowing or believing that tobacco was as bad as it is.

And, (not trying to be snide here, but this thought just struck me) would you consider the Coca Cola company (who once sold their sugar water with cocaine [or was it heroin?] in it as a tonic) to be a superior judge of food safety than the agency whose reason for being is to evaluate the safety of foods and drugs in this country? Does Coca Cola ever do testing on the safety of the FDA approved ingredients it uses in its products as opposed to just taste comparisons? I heard some of those same arguments about 18 years ago and would think that if something that big were there, would not someone have done an independent study and published their results by now? I think aspartame is more of an internet hysteria thing.


jacob
Posted 31 December 2006 at 12:29 am

YAY FOR CAPITALISM AND INDUSTRIALISM!!!!!! WOOT WOOT!!!!


8Man
Posted 31 December 2006 at 06:22 am

I suspect depleted uranium dust being spread around Iraq and Afghanistan will create some interesting problems in the future.


debbiebf
Posted 31 December 2006 at 06:34 am

Coke felt they had no choice since it was the only non-caloric sweetener at the time since cyclamates were banned. You will notice they are quietly going away from aspartame to the other ones now being allowed. There is a class action lawsuit against them in California over this.

The Senate Congressional Record S5507-15 contains a fairly lengthy argument from the National Soft Drink Association (NSDA) against the legalization of this substance for soft drinks. It was developed as an ant poison (try it, it works if the ants eat it, but you need to put some real food with it like apple juice). Under fairly low heat (110 degrees or so) it breaks down into lovely chemicals like formaldehyde and methanol. They cause headaches and twitches, but also more serious diseases such as Multiple Sclerosis since they eat the sheaths of nerve cells. And interestingly enough, many people put ON weight drinking aspartame because it lowers your metabolism.

I'm just saying, even today, the government and industry work hard to hide stuff from us because of dollars. I personally started researching this when my husband and I started having weird "brain farts" after drinking our first aspartame drinks back in 85. We think it is funny how every time a study comes out showing there are problems, the media/FDA/Coke/Monsanto come back quickly with damage control.


HarleyHetz
Posted 31 December 2006 at 08:54 am

SparkyTWP said: "I don't think people in other countries are any less compassionate for the most part (After all, don't forget that America is made up of people from those countries). "

Point taken.


Red1337Sox
Posted 31 December 2006 at 10:41 am

I love the cover picture with the watch and radiation symbol. Very clever.


tomslatin
Posted 31 December 2006 at 12:05 pm

I remember hearing about this case when I was being taught about radiation back in 8th grade. I haven't heard about the case since, until I stumbled upon your website. I must say that after reading this article, I've become addicted to this website; I've bookmarked it and subscribed to updates.

Also, I heard somewhere that the watches that were painted with Undark caused cancer because a lot of men at the time would carry them in the same spot in their pants pocket and years later, would have a small tumor in the spot. It's sad really.


concernoid
Posted 31 December 2006 at 12:22 pm

The Radium Dial Company went on to poison workers in Ottawa, IL. A web search for Ottawa, IL radium will bring many results as they also poisoned the town. Luminous Process Incorporated was finally shut down in 1978 by the NRC.


ExperimentNo6
Posted 31 December 2006 at 08:02 pm

Dravkil, I'm pretty sure it was cocaine, hence the nickname "coke". Which brings to mind how they used to give housewives PCP in the form of pep pills in what, the 50's?


Tink
Posted 01 January 2007 at 01:01 am

Hi Yall! Happy New Year!

Alan says: "Their hair, faces, hands, arms, necks, the dresses, the underclothes, even the corsets of the dial painters were luminous. One of the girls showed luminous spots on her legs and thighs. The back of another was luminous almost to the waist…."

Kinda makes you quiver all over don't it? Glow in the dark people, humm this might make a good plot for a movie. Uh no wait, thats been done...
We had a smelter plant not too far from where I grew up. Lead contaminated the soil and water. Here just a decade ago they got it cleaned up, and paid some pissant amt. to the 100's of families in the neighborhood with brain-damaged children.

Coke~a~Cola most definatly had a percentage of pure cocaine in the original formula.

(Dr. Pepper, a cola developed by a pharmacist in Waco Tx. used the cola recipie as a base and the now popular drink was prescribed as a tonic for listlessness and depression).

Though Coke's website and fact sheets claim that only a miniscule amt. was in the formula, I dare to say that is an understatement.
I remember house wives and especially my Grandmom, being literaly hooked on the stuff.

Now in the 60's and 70's we learnt that pills could be FUN! And so Doctors merrily went about helping their patients stay happy by prescribing all manner of "Mommys little helpers". These included methanphetamine for weight loss and Valium for "nerves" (Nerves probably being caused by the half dozen or so Dexies one took in a day (eyes roll) DI! article Alan!


inmyopinion
Posted 01 January 2007 at 07:18 am

You think small companies are better?

There are many supplements beings sold in shops and the internet which are proclaimed to be "healthy" and "anti-aging".. but which in fact are either placebo or even toxic. Such websites will give you information about how the miracle substance works, and that 'scientists' found it 'rejuvenates' you and other BS.

Well it never does what they say.

Perhaps its because I'm a molecular biologist but it's easy to see that the 'scientific' explanation they give doesn't even make a liquor sense, and is just a whole lot of empty talk. But I am still horrified at the ignorance of lifespan extensionists and other supplement addicts.

In many cases I found that such sites even go further than just providing false information, they would even give literature references to non-existent articles from real or made-up journals. In most cases however they only mention the benefit, and leave out all the downsides which where found.

An anti-oxidant as quercetin for instance does indeed provide some SLIGHT protection against the oxidative damage resulting from an infarct, but it also reduces the lifespan of mice GREATLY over a longer period of time. Yet it is still being marketed as lifespan increasing and thousands of people spend hundreds if not thousands of dollars each month buying quercetin and similar toxic chemicals in the illusion it will make them practically live forever.

Even herbal tea's can be poisonous, especially tea's from third world countries and China have repeatedly been found laced with poisonous herbs. Those tea's really aren't made by 10.000 year old magic Budhist monks, whatever the packaging says. They are made by people without a clue of how the right herb looks like, and simply gather whatever herb sort-of looks right, and most of them wouldn't give a rats ass to how many stupid rich foreigners will stuff it because they picked the wrong type of star anise.

Even to this day Aristolochia is repeatedly found in Chinese herbal potions, without being mentioned in the ingredient list. http://www.springerlink.com/content/j7l02314105v5g21/ Take a few cups too many of that and your kidneys will shut down and cancer will develop. And it is small time businesses that sell these crap.

No matter how small or large a business, no matter how friendly or professional their appearance, just don't trust anything they have to say. Money will always come first to them.


wbeaty
Posted 02 January 2007 at 12:37 am

This entire fiasco repeated earlier in the 1800s with women working in phosphorus plants. Ingested phosphorus slowly rots your jaw and makes your teeth fall out.

And then it repeated later, in the 1950s, with women working in fluorescent tube factories. The tube phosphor contain Beryllium Oxide, toxic and carcinogenic, with huge numbers of workers having lung problems. A female scientist heard about their complaints and identified the culprit: beryllosis. (And back in those years, a broken fluorescent tube was quite hazardous, and not from the tiny bit of mercury either.)


student
Posted 02 January 2007 at 03:59 am

Inmyopinion uses the phrase "a liquor sense" -- I love it! (I am sure you were mis-hearing "a lick of sense")


misanthrope
Posted 02 January 2007 at 07:07 am

Student: It's known as a 'mondegreen' if you want to Google for the inevitable lists... if you like them as much as I do it'll keep you amused for days :)


Radiatidon
Posted 02 January 2007 at 08:03 am

pebecker said: "What is a "transmission center"? If you mean RF, then you were exposed to a non-ionizing energy. That is markedly different than a nuclear-sourced type."

You are correct in that it is different, but incorrect as it is just a leathal as nuclear-sourced. Due to my job history, I have been exposed to both RF and Radioactive materials. My worst exposure was to RF as mentioned in the above statement. My arm, though temporary, was exposed to over 100MW when I stumbled into an “RF Bubble”. That bubble acted like a microwave oven on my tissue by heating the water within the cell structure. This in turn can cause cell death. Part of my doctor’s concern was a possible range of cancers that seem related to high yield or long-term exposure RF radiation.
In order to check my “health related to exposure” I had biopsies taken. Not just of the skin tissue, but of the bone. The bone ones hurt like hell by the way. This also included blood work, genetic, mental, and spatial awareness skill tests. All my bodily fluids and by-products were tested over this same span of time (months of daily tests). Why, because various parts of the human body act as an antenna. For instance the brain has an electromagnetic resonance of around 400 MHz in an adult whereas a child is in the 800MHz range.
This can create Neurological problems such as:
o Changes in the blood-brain-barrier
o Changes in neural electrophysiology (EEG)
o Changes in neurotransmitters (which affect motivation and pain perception)
o Cytogenetic effects (which can affect cancer, Alzheimer's, neurodegenerative diseases.
o Unrelenting headaches.
o Possible increase of brain related cancer cells.
o Decreased memory, attention, and slower reaction time.
o Damage to the spatial "working memory".
Plus an increase in various other areas:
o Changes in cellular morphology (including cell death)
o Increased blood pressure.
o Increased single- and double-strand breaks in DNA, our genetic material.
o Metabolic changes (of calcium ions, for instance)
o Lymphoma
o An increased possibility of tumor growth.

I live my life with the constant knowledge that my future has a black shadow born of the past. Due I regret it? No. Life is filled with uncertainty. I knew the risks of my job, unlike the poor ladies of the article. I lived the life and faced the risks, but enjoy the memories born of my existence.


Cesium
Posted 02 January 2007 at 08:26 am

Radiatidon said: "I live my life with the constant knowledge that my future has a black shadow born of the past. Due I regret it? No. Life is filled with uncertainty. I knew the risks of my job, unlike the poor ladies of the article. I lived the life and faced the risks, but enjoy the memories born of my existence."

Whoa - Grim prospects with a rosy view. Nice thought there.


djzanni
Posted 02 January 2007 at 09:28 am

There was an article some years ago in Harper's Magazine about a boy who nearly created a nuclear reactor with householdish items he was able to collect. He found a bottle of radium in an antique store and used it to create a radium gun. Here's the link:

http://www.dangerouslaboratories.org/radscout.html


inmyopinion
Posted 02 January 2007 at 01:30 pm

student said: "Inmyopinion uses the phrase "a liquor sense" — I love it! (I am sure you were mis-hearing "a lick of sense")"

Ah.. I'm not a native English speaker. But I think I'll stick with 'a liquor sense' :) It's so self-explanatory.
'A lick of sense' on the other hand.. where does THAT come from?


misanthrope7
Posted 02 January 2007 at 02:20 pm

InMyOpinion: Reading my comment back it seems a little rude to you, that wasn't my intention, so I'm sorry if you took it that way.

My favourite resource for etymology (http://www.word-detective.com/backidx.html) has no idea of the origin. I might even send it in to him :)


Tink
Posted 02 January 2007 at 07:22 pm

djzanni said: "There was an article some years ago in Harper's Magazine about a boy who nearly created a nuclear reactor with householdish items he was able to collect. He found a bottle of radium in an antique store and used it to create a radium gun. Here's the link:


http://www.dangerouslaboratories.org/radscout.html"

Yes, look here Jason Bellows had an DI! article on this:
http://www.damninteresting.com/?p=340


kilranian
Posted 02 January 2007 at 09:43 pm

This was a really well written article until the very end. Using the word "evil" to describe US Radium gives a spin to the article as a whole. The tone of the article was held as neutral as possible given the subject matter and the "evil" actions of the company, until that part.

Just my opinion, but I've always enjoyed DI's relative neutrality interjected with humor.


SneezeWhiz
Posted 03 January 2007 at 01:04 pm

US Radium's fraudulent attempts to cover up the harm done to those women, and their subsequent attempt to dodge responsibility was indeed evil. What other word would you use to describe such despicable acts?

They make the big tobacco companies look like pikers.


inmyopinion
Posted 03 January 2007 at 02:23 pm

misanthrope7 said: "InMyOpinion: Reading my comment back it seems a little rude to you, that wasn't my intention, so I'm sorry if you took it that way.

nope I took no offense

My favourite resource for etymology (http://www.word-detective.com/backidx.html) has no idea of the origin. I might even send it in to him :)"

I figure it might have started as a way to describe a meager meal that doesn't fill the stomache, in the idea of "this meal doesn't even make a lick". Then the notion of 'not even a lick' might have gotten extended to situations in general.

I'm not sure whether this makes a liquor sense but it's my best guess.


Maven
Posted 03 January 2007 at 09:53 pm

Call my bluff? As if I'd be so lame to contrive that my grandmother and her cousin did not die of that disease, and that radium was suspected as the cause?

My grandmother was born in the 20s. She lived in Orange. This is indisputable. When it comes to things like environment, especially as it pertained to the pre-EPA era, anything is possible. Furthermore, many folks who lived on the same street ended up with similar diseases. I also recall at some point just prior or just after her diagnosis, that she had received a call from the Orange Health Department, as they were tracking down former residents of her old neighborhood.


Silverhill
Posted 04 January 2007 at 12:54 am

1MillionthRegistrati said: "Now, it's true that Radium and Tritium are vastly different safety-wise, but it's because of the nature of the radiation (Alpha, Beta, Gamma, etc). Tritium has Alpha radiation and even though it's much more radioactive than Radium, it's safe radiation (dead skin cells can stop it). Radium is much less radioactive, but what radiation it does have passes straight through your body, damaging it along the way. That's why it's so dangerous.... Were it Alpha radiation, it would be many times safer than Tritium."

There's a bit of confusion there. A tritium nucleus, consisting of 1 proton + 2 neutrons, cannot be an alpha emitter since an alpha particle is 2 protons + 2 neutrons. Tritium emits beta particles (electrons), transforming to stable helium-3 (2 protons + 1 neutron) in the process.Radium, now, is an alpha emitter, transforming to the very-short-lived (~3 days) alpha emitter radon, on its way to eventual stability as an isotope of lead or bismuth.The alpha particles do not "pass straight through your body"; perhaps you're thinking of gamma radiation? Instead, as you noted, dead skin cells can stop alphas. (The dead cells are more dense than the live, water-containing cells; besides, their DNA is no longer in use, so if it gets broken by an alpha impact it doesn't matter.)Once an emitter is ingested or inhaled, though, a lot of trouble can result (often from cumulative DNA damage) if it can't be easily excreted by the body.


student
Posted 04 January 2007 at 01:12 am

inmyopinion said: "nope I took no offense

I figure it might have started as a way to describe a meager meal that doesn't fill the stomache, in the idea of "this meal doesn't even make a lick". Then the notion of 'not even a lick' might have gotten extended to situations in general.

I'm not sure whether this makes a liquor sense but it's my best guess."

I agree: A lick simply means a small amount.


anna k
Posted 06 January 2007 at 01:38 pm

student said: "I think when they were trying to establish safety (also in the 1920s) of tetraethyl lead they used goats. I don't know if they measured cognitive ability before and after or how this is done with goats."

You know, the tetraethyl lead corporation in america was still denying that lead was poisonous as of about 2002. probably still are, for that matter. Someone should show them some addled goats!

Evil or not evil, and righteous indignation aside... I'm always really surprised by the willingness of so many people to disregard evidence if it means it might inhibit their progress. Is it a back-of-the-mind rationalizing thought that we use to think to ourselves that "This will all just blow over, it can't really be all that bad"? Or do people really, truly, baldly say to themselves "Sure it's bad, but I just don't care"? Does conscience really get misplaced (because I really do believe that most people are brought up to have one), or is it the requisite knowledge to understand certain facts (i.e. enough biology to grasp radiation poisoning) that needs work in preventing so many mass corporate indignations perpetrated by corporations and governments? For real, any opinions?


senorstu
Posted 06 January 2007 at 03:52 pm

Rinson Drei said: "The women who dipped self-striking matches into the phosphorus compound suffered similar problems. "

And didn't "The Mad Hatter" come from the hat makers that went bonkers after exposure to the mercury used to treat the felt?


James
Posted 06 January 2007 at 04:02 pm

anna k said: "You know, the tetraethyl lead corporation in america was still denying that lead was poisonous as of about 2002. probably still are, for that matter. Someone should show them some addled goats!

Evil or not evil, and righteous indignation aside… I'm always really surprised by the willingness of so many people to disregard evidence if it means it might inhibit their progress. Is it a back-of-the-mind rationalizing thought that we use to think to ourselves that "This will all just blow over, it can't really be all that bad"? Or do people really, truly, baldly say to themselves "Sure it's bad, but I just don't care"? Does conscience really get misplaced (because I really do believe that most people are brought up to have one), or is it the requisite knowledge to understand certain facts (i.e. enough biology to grasp radiation poisoning) that needs work in preventing so many mass corporate indignations perpetrated by corporations and governments? For real, any opinions?"

True people and corporation have “ignored” the risks regarding some new technology. But the truth be known if people were as aware of the risks of new technologies we would not have gotten to the point we are now technologically. (Aspirin would have never made it past the current FDA process for example and as senorstu points out we would not even have hats) I’m sure our arrogance about how people and companies polluted and risked peoples health will turn into a large slice of humble pie when the future generation shake there heads and arrogantly say that we had no regard for safety or “how could they not have known that”. And before you say to yourself or write that you are already do know about this injustice or you somehow know about that. I am not talking about the obvious health risks we know about know it is the ones looming in the future that I am referring. However, the fact of the mater is if we had a zero risk policy for new technologies from the beginning human of time, we would still living in caves and eating dino burgers.

In short: If you want to make an omelet, you have to break a few eggs


anna k
Posted 08 January 2007 at 06:19 am

No no, that's not quite what I was saying--I didn't mean to say "they should have known"; I realize that people have to find stuff out and that process is not always smooth. I meant, I feel like I was taught from a very young age that if something you're doing is hurting people, you stop doing it, even if you're making a lot of money from it. As in, that was something people learn in families/kindergartens/Sunday school/whatever religious or nonreligious childrearing forum you can think of. Am I missing some life lesson here, and is that why I'm so dirt poor? Or more to the point, is the reason things like this happen is that people have some cute rationalization for pulling stuff like a fake doctor charade to keep doing what they're doing and not worry about it?


Proserpine
Posted 09 January 2007 at 07:06 pm

PresMatt: Technically, anyone who's ever had a sunburn has been irradiated, because a sunburn is a first-degree (or second-degree, in extreme cases) burn resulting from exposure to dangerous radiation. This is usually my retort when anyone makes a cutting remark on my pale skin and lack of affinity for bright sunlight.

I agree, though, normal radiation poisoning is definitely not as cool a story as surviving radium exposure with non-disfiguring injury.

And great article, Alan. The title attracted first, I must admit. I've always been fascinated both with radioactive materials and things that glow in the dark. As a child, I once broke open a glow stick and smeared it on my skin...only to realise that it really, really burned. Having heard a few tragic stories like the above beforehand, I probably should have been more careful, despite the fact that I don't think modern glow-toys contain actual radium.

I have a small vial of powdered luminol, the substance which causes fireflies to glow. I also have a vial of zinc something-or-other (I can't recall) which, if mixed with an oxidizer, will produce an evanescent blue glow when dripped into water. It somewhat resembles plasma-- it's intense and eeriely blue. It fades too rapidly to be used for any sort of decorative purpose, however.


glowbug0015
Posted 18 January 2007 at 11:27 pm

jkschlitz said: "I don't think it's that Americans are able to discern right and wrong more than Bangladeshis. I think the difference is that we have laws in place to protect workers, and companies are afraid to break them. It all comes down to money. People who have as little concern for their fellow man as the management at US Radium exist all over the world, it's just that some places keep them in check better than others. I hope Bangladesh takes steps to punish such behavior like the US has."

while the US is now regulating everything, i think that the general movement toward higher education is inducing a greater general knowledge of personal responsibility. They are talking a lot about corporate responsibility and such, but isn't it the responsibility of the consumer to choose products that are produced by ethical means? Surely, if the corporation is not being honest, that is a real problem. But if the corporation is being honest (as in the case, as it sounds like, of cola) and people are choosing to do it anyway, that is the real problem. If people were willing to pay a little more to choose products from companies whose leaders act in an ethical manner, then we would have less evil people in positions of power, and less choices of companies who may be acting unethically.
At the same time, I understand that it is an impossible task to research every company's product you are to buy from. But that is why it is important to socialize and commune with like-minded individuals.

And no, I'm not vegetarian, but I should be.


cerealkiller
Posted 31 January 2007 at 10:52 pm

This is a very sad story. I remember hearing about it in school. But how about the babe in the picture? She really is a 'Betty'.


John Laird
Posted 28 September 2007 at 09:47 am

My father's three older sisters all worked for U.S. Radium, Orange, N.J. in the early part of the the 20th century. All three died at the age of 80 and cancer was the cause. Lung, throat and breast cancer. All painted watch dials and pointed their brushes with their lips. My one aunt was part of a study that she said was provided by the company to see how her health was progressing. She and the others were so very trusting of that company and suffered with their illness and never compensated from the class action law suit.


onemore
Posted 23 October 2007 at 02:03 am

Clearly the saddest part is the corprate disregard of employees they felt were unimportant, young women. Poor young women, who could be easily replaced by new ones after they became too sick to work. I have read much about the radium dial corperation and they protected thier " more valuable" workers. Kept other parts of the plant clean. When they were sued thier lawers kept asking for and getting extenctions as the plantifs got sicker and nearer death. As it turned out the judge was a stock holder in the company. One reason to delay the trial was the defence witnesses were going over seas for vaction. Yes, that's right on holiday while these poor wemon were in pain, from keeping thier brushes sharp with thier lips;so much pain they could not even sleep. Let us not turn away from watching big business for one second. They will still exploit the workers given a chance. To make more money for them selves. We are lucky enough to live in a nation where we can fight injustice and win but it takes vigulance and leagle action.


alyssa
Posted 10 November 2007 at 03:02 pm

this is really sad. i am doing this play at school and it has helped me to understand more about what went on. it is crazy that anyone would do something like this. i know they didnt know that it was dangerous at first but they should have stopped once they found out. this is a great article and its probably the most helpful one i have found.


oldmancoyote
Posted 26 November 2007 at 06:08 pm

inmyopinion, I dig what you are saying. It was always taught to me as 'dose response.' Any substance if taken in sufficient quantities becomes toxic.

As for companies blatantly putting workers in jeapardy, happens all the time. I once worked in a plant where sand blasting occurred. Usually outside. When weather forced it inside the person blasting would have his OSHA required supplied air respirator. However, no one else got one. The sand would reduce visability to a few feet. Can you say silicosis?


MT C
Posted 26 November 2007 at 07:32 pm

Perhaps Allen you could do something on military nuclear weapon maintenance. Say from 1950 to the late 1960's would be interesting. I was in the United States Air Force during the end of that period, when the weapons were owned by the Atomic Energy Commission, not the current international model, but the one that disappeared and became partof the Department of Energy. The maintenance guys (enlisted) were told it was safe to handle weapon pits for cleaning and inspection with lightweight latex gloves and paper masks for respriators. Chemicals used for cleaning included Tricholethylene, Toluene and Stoddard (dry cleaning solvent). It might prove interesting to know how many of those guys died 'strangely related' deaths such as cancer of various internal organs. I was amongst the fortunate, as sealed weapons were coming into the inventory by the time I got through training and began work in the field. I was also fortunate to have been selected and trained as a team chief where I was not longer exposed directly to the chemical threat as it was my job to oversee team operations. Most weren't as fortunate as I and spend their entire four or more years taking baths in the toxic soups as team members. Of course the DOE has never publicly acknowledged these and many other hazardous situations they have created and of couse they will never admit directing humans to come into direct contact with radio active materials or hazardous chemicals. If you are interested I would be glad to furnish what I know to be unclassified information regarding this. And I am sure that with some digging what I have stated can easily be confirmed.

It might also be interesting to see various statistics involved with the manufacturing of the weapons pits and various gases during the period. It would not surprise me at all however if you would be denied access 'in the interest of national security'. I am laughing as I know these meatheads at DoE have dodged the bullet since the beginning of time because they were protecting 'national security'. I have only ever discussed this with a very few people and then only slightly touching the subject, but I have often wondered what would result if some organization, with a good reputation such as DI were to do an investigation. Could be it is still another Area 51 and that we will never know what is the reason for this hazardous cover up.


supercalafragalistic
Posted 26 November 2007 at 10:07 pm

kilranian said: " I've always enjoyed DI's relative neutrality interjected with humor."

For sure, me too. Damn Interesting totally rocks!! :)

I love paint. I studied painting for over 16 years. I am one of those rare people who can stare at a Jackson Pollock for days, and there is nothing better than the smell of a fresh coat of kilz and latex paint to cover an art gallery so that the next exhibit can go up. I've even said that one possibility for when I die is that I'd like to be creamated and have my ashes mixed with a bucket of paint and then painted on the walls of the National Museum of Art or Museum of Contemporary Art or something, back in art school we used to love watching paint dry...

http://www.goldenpaints.com

Having said that if you look on Golden's web site, a reputable paint company that produces acrylic paint you will see that they produce a wide array of paints that will blow your mind when it comes to viscosity, hue and texture availibitily. A few interesting ones worth pointing out are listed here along with fascinating quotes from their web site:

Iridescent Colors:
"The GOLDEN Iridescent colors achieve their reflective properties by synthetically reproducing several natural phenomena - the nacreous, or pearlescent, qualities found in fish scales or the dust of a butterfly's wing, and the shiny and reflective qualities found in certain metals and minerals."

Interference Colors:
"Interference Acrylic colors offer a unique "interference flip." When viewed from difference perspectives, Interference colors flip between a bright opalescent color and its complement. When applied over white or lighter surfaces, the Interference color is less obvious and the "flip" effect is more obvious. When applied over black or darker surfaces, the Interference color is more obvious and the "flip" effect is less obvious."

Fluorescent Acrylic Colors:
"Fluorescent Acrylics Colors are intense, brilliant colors, produced from dyes surrounded by a polymer coating. "

Phosphorescent Green:
Click here to read their best practices for how to apply the glow in the dark paint: http://www.goldenpaints.com/technicaldata/phosphgrn.php

Golden has a great reputation in the arts community and their web site is really well organized with tons of information on each color and I think a good addition to take a look at for the curious intellectual after reading an article such as this one.

Most artists I knew thought that acrylic paint was a lot safer than oil paint which can easily get absorbed into your skin and never come out. I heard of one artist at my school who tried to kill herself by covering her body with cadmium red oil paint. She didn't die but it definately didn't do her any favors. She was expelled from school after that I think. What always seemed to me to be the most likely culprit in the fine arts world to kill your brain almost always seemed to me to be the paint thinners and the fumes emitted. That stuff will make a person whacked out! I subscribe to the alumni newsletter at my college and I do read the obituaries purposefully looking for any patterns in cancer related deaths. So far I've seen a lot of lung cancer in painters (many of them I knew smoked cigarettes, cigars, and less legal materials) but most striking in the obituaries was the pattern in the photographers with so many of them perishing due to brain cancer. Their dark room chemicals are pretty toxic apparently.

Oil based enamel paint is also really bad if you breathe the fumes from that. That is a type of heavy duty paint that dries with a very glossy finish that you can buy in most paint stores. If you ever have to use that I'd wear a respirator.

I'm sure there are many more examples of this. I'm sharing the ones I know. Man, now I really want to go paint something! :) Don't forget to spackle first!


knowsalot12
Posted 27 November 2007 at 02:23 am

MT C said: "Perhaps Allen you could do something on military nuclear weapon maintenance. Say from 1950 to the late 1960's would be interesting. I was in the United States Air Force during the end of that period, when the weapons were owned by the Atomic Energy Commission, not the current international model, but the one that disappeared and became partof the Department of Energy. The maintenance guys (enlisted) were told it was safe to handle weapon pits for cleaning and inspection with lightweight latex gloves and paper masks for respriators. Chemicals used for cleaning included Tricholethylene, Toluene and Stoddard (dry cleaning solvent). It might prove interesting to know how many of those guys died 'strangely related' deaths such as cancer of various internal organs. I was amongst the fortunate, as sealed weapons were coming into the inventory by the time I got through training and began work in the field. I was also fortunate to have been selected and trained as a team chief where I was not longer exposed directly to the chemical threat as it was my job to oversee team operations. Most weren't as fortunate as I and spend their entire four or more years taking baths in the toxic soups as team members. Of course the DOE has never publicly acknowledged these and many other hazardous situations they have created and of couse they will never admit directing humans to come into direct contact with radio active materials or hazardous chemicals. If you are interested I would be glad to furnish what I know to be unclassified information regarding this. And I am sure that with some digging what I have stated can easily be confirmed.

It might also be interesting to see various statistics involved with the manufacturing of the weapons pits and various gases during the period. It would not surprise me at all however if you would be denied access 'in the interest of national security'. I am laughing as I know these meatheads at DoE have dodged the bullet since the beginning of time because they were protecting 'national security'. I have only ever discussed this with a very few people and then only slightly touching the subject, but I have often wondered what would result if some organization, with a good reputation such as DI were to do an investigation. Could be it is still another Area 51 and that we will never know what is the reason for this hazardous cover up."

I am by no means an expert on radiological materials and I agree that the DOE has taken many upon many shortcuts during the race for bigger and more bombs (basically every weapons plant/laboratory seems to have stories of dumping/burning/accidents/spills/inadequate safety etc), but as far as handling weapon pits with gloves and a respirator, well that actually should be fine.

Plutonium is an alpha emitter and alpha radiation cannot penetrate your skin. Plutonium is only really dangerous (excluding its intended purpose of being a nuclear explosive) when it can be inhaled or ingested, at which point it becomes quite dangerous indeed.

Since weapon pits are incredibly precise (to the point that machines precise enough to machine the plutonium and explosive lenses are one of the barriers a nation must overcome to build a bomb) hemispheres of solid plutonium metal there should be no chance of inhaling or ingesting the plutonium while cleaning the pit. To do so would require damaging the pit at which point your fired anyway. The gloves and respirator are all that one really needs to be sure of this.

The solvents you mentioned indeed pose a greater risk to the workers than the weapon pits themselves, barring the workers decide to see what plutonium tastes like.


justjim1
Posted 27 November 2007 at 10:05 am

I loved this article when posted earlier and I still love it now. Where can a guy find one of these hot babes to be used as a night light?


metasonix
Posted 27 November 2007 at 01:48 pm

I might also add: the horrible deaths of radium-paint workers didn't have the greatest impact on the public's perception of radium. That would be the result of the death of wealthy playboy Eben Byers in 1932. Mr. Byers was guzzling a radium-laced patent medicine called Radithor. The slow deaths of all those poor women didn't cause a public uproar. Byers's death did......because after all, he was a popular celebrity. It was reported in a notorious Wall Street Journal article titled "The Radium Water Worked Fine until His Jaw Came Off." Byers' death contributed directly to the formation of the modern-day Food and Drug Administration.

There's a Wikipedia entry if you wish to read more: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eben_Byers

Please let me recommend the book Living With Radiation: the First Hundred Years by Frame and Kolb. Absolutely fascinating book, packed with info about the crazy radiation-based products sold to the gullible public. (And shockingly, some such things are STILL being marketed, mostly in Japan and using thorium as an active ingredient.)

You will not find it on Amazon or at bookstores, but it can be ordered from theodoregray.com or here:

http://www.pyradyne.com/Merchant2/merchant.mvc?Screen=PROD&Store_Code=P&Product_Code=rad-book&Category_Code=Rad


be Radical
Posted 27 November 2007 at 06:22 pm

Its amazing the lengths that capitalists will go to to protect their profits. I actually partly agree with the comment Naser made-(although i dont beleive these women dont deserve our empathy as they were the victims here) this type of disergard for human life GOES ON TODAY (quick example- invading iraq for oil) . the only reason it ever stops is when workers stand up to big business and FORCE change from below.
*nods in a commanding kind of way*
:)


be Radical
Posted 27 November 2007 at 06:29 pm

and actually- further to this point this is perhaps the kind of action that was needed http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/London_matchgirls_strike_of_1888 (as the name suggests a strilke at a match production plant. )


leaf
Posted 28 November 2007 at 01:39 am

metasonix said: "I might also add: the horrible deaths of radium-paint workers didn't have the greatest impact on the public's perception of radium. That would be the result of the death of wealthy playboy Eben Byers in 1932. Mr. Byers was guzzling a radium-laced patent medicine called Radithor. The slow deaths of all those poor women didn't cause a public uproar. Byers's death did……because after all, he was a popular celebrity. It was reported in a notorious Wall Street Journal article titled "The Radium Water Worked Fine until His Jaw Came Off." Byers' death contributed directly to the formation of the modern-day Food and Drug Administration.

There's a Wikipedia entry if you wish to read more: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eben_Byers

Please let me recommend the book Living With Radiation: the First Hundred Years by Frame and Kolb. Absolutely fascinating book, packed with info about the crazy radiation-based products sold to the gullible public. (And shockingly, some such things are STILL being marketed, mostly in Japan and using thorium as an active ingredient.)

You will not find it on Amazon or at bookstores, but it can be ordered from theodoregray.com or here:

http://www.pyradyne.com/Merchant2/merchant.mvc?Screen=PROD&Store_Code=P&Product_Code=rad-book&Category_Code=Rad"

This Byers guy was buried? Wouldn't the radium radiation spread this way?


Hoekstes
Posted 28 November 2007 at 06:44 am

*yawn* can't wait for the new article


noway
Posted 28 November 2007 at 12:18 pm

be Radical said: "this type of disergard for human life GOES ON TODAY (quick example- invading iraq for oil) . "

I agree that disREGARD for human life occurs today, no doubt. But if you honestly think we invaded Iraq for oil then you are completely ignorant...


Silverhill
Posted 28 November 2007 at 03:33 pm

leaf said: "This Byers guy was buried? Wouldn't the radium radiation spread this way?"
It would depend on the construction of the grave and/or the coffin. But even if there has been leakage into the ground, the total amount of radium lingering in the body was very small. It doesn't take much of a high-activity nuclide to do you irreparable harm, if it lodges in the tissues (as ingested radium does).


rev.felix
Posted 28 November 2007 at 03:42 pm

We seriously need a whole DI article on Radiatidon. I don't know about the rest of you, but his life has gotta be at least 50 billion times more interesting than mine. You totally get the golden pie award, dude.


be Radical
Posted 28 November 2007 at 07:47 pm

noway said: "I agree that disREGARD for human life occurs today, no doubt. But if you honestly think we invaded Iraq for oil then you are completely ignorant…"

Fair call. It was more of a flippant reference to the war in Iraq, which is a whole nother can of worms. The parralell here is that the war was waged in iraq in the interests of oil company's profits , at the expense of human life on all sides. (i.e. not some humanitarian intervention as the ruling class would have us believe. ) I daresay if you did beleive this was in the interests of the iraqi population, you would be as ignorant as the people who beleived high doses of radium to be good for you.


Steph
Posted 29 November 2007 at 09:44 am

If I'm not mistaken, I think my mom had the job at a medical facility many years ago of trying to find all the people affected by the paint situation. Her description of this situation was all I had heard about it until I read this.


knowsalot12
Posted 29 November 2007 at 05:19 pm

knowsalot12 said: "I am by no means an expert on radiological materials and I agree that the DOE has taken many upon many shortcuts during the race for bigger and more bombs (basically every weapons plant/laboratory seems to have stories of dumping/burning/accidents/spills/inadequate safety etc), but as far as handling weapon pits with gloves and a respirator, well that actually should be fine.

Plutonium is an alpha emitter and alpha radiation cannot penetrate your skin. Plutonium is only really dangerous (excluding its intended purpose of being a nuclear explosive) when it can be inhaled or ingested, at which point it becomes quite dangerous indeed.

Since weapon pits are incredibly precise (to the point that machines precise enough to machine the plutonium and explosive lenses are one of the barriers a nation must overcome to build a bomb) hemispheres of solid plutonium metal there should be no chance of inhaling or ingesting the plutonium while cleaning the pit. To do so would require damaging the pit at which point your fired anyway. The gloves and respirator are all that one really needs to be sure of this.

The solvents you mentioned indeed pose a greater risk to the workers than the weapon pits themselves, barring the workers decide to see what plutonium tastes like."

I also thought I'd add to this that many weapon pits are additionally coated in an inert metal, such as gold (!) for exactly this reason, to protect assemblers and technicians from any chance of plutonium somehow making its way into their bodies.


Anonymousx2
Posted 30 November 2007 at 03:47 am

oldmancoyote said: "inmyopinion, I dig what you are saying. It was always taught to me as 'dose response.' Any substance if taken in sufficient quantities becomes toxic.

As for companies blatantly putting workers in jeapardy, happens all the time. I once worked in a plant where sand blasting occurred. Usually outside. When weather forced it inside the person blasting would have his OSHA required supplied air respirator. However, no one else got one. The sand would reduce visability to a few feet. Can you say silicosis?"

Speaking of companies that willfully put their employees at risk, other companies will also knowingly and willingly put the entire populace at risk, and I am not referring to Big Tobacco. Use Google to find out about the Ethyl Corporation's early marketing ploys that it used to sell leaded gasoline, even though its officers knew that lead was incredibly toxic. The Ethyl Corporation is still in business but has changed its name.


InTents&Porpoises
Posted 05 December 2007 at 07:26 pm

Radium contamination remains a problem at former U.S. Radium sites (in a major metropolitan area). Even sites of other companies manufacturing similar products remain today contaminated above regulatory limits and are a problem to those people trying to sell or demolish the property.


Richard Bowyer
Posted 07 December 2007 at 09:25 am

Lick of Sense

This is a very common redneck expression indicating that the person it is addressed has no common sense.


nameowner
Posted 12 December 2007 at 08:52 pm

So bad.


JoshDestardi
Posted 20 December 2007 at 01:19 pm

AntEconomist said: "Corporations are neither good nor evil — they are legal constructs. It is the people who run them that are good or evil. There is as much likelihood for a pauper to be evil as there is for a CEO. The apparent difference is an observation bias — the pauper doesn't garner headlines when he steals, but the CEO does. Yes, there is a difference in the magnitude of what is stolen but that difference reflects not degree of evil but scope of opportunity."

I disagree with these comments.

"Radium Girls" is not about a Corporation's employees stealing; it's about a Corporation's
pursuit of Profit; a Corporation IS its Employees, it seeks to preserve itself by seeking out profits, and disqualifying any obstacle to that. A Corporation is a contract yes, but the Corporation in reality is the sum of its muscle, aka employees (who give the Corporation life by seeking profits to inflate their bonuses.)

1)"Corporations" are set up to maximize profits; that is there sole purpose. To make money.
2)A "Corporation" does not make money by looking out for its employees' health
3)A "Corporation" does not make money by being concerned about the environment
4)A "Corporation does not make money by conserving resources; it might make money by recycling resources, but then again, it's MAKING MONEY by recycling them.

Maybe Corporations are not 'evil,' but they certainly aren't inherently 'Good' either.
These are pretty obvious; with that said, how do you measure "Evil"? By intent, or most harm inflicted? How about both?

A "pauper" who can inflict minimal damage by depriving someone at most, their life, but most commonly their wallet is causing short term recoverable damage; generally, these wallet heists are not planned.

A "Corporation" has a long term plan/goal in effect, and if that goal meets an obstacle like Radium poisoning, it does the most harm by a)Planning a strategy to cover up b)Make the poisoning in to a 'positive', c)Ultimately contributing to the deaths/illnesses of multiple people


Mprrich
Posted 28 December 2007 at 07:54 pm

I have a Rolex watch that was presented to my father in 1956. The watch still keeps perfect time, it also has a "glow in the dark" feature, but it must be put near a light source for it to glow for a while. I hope, after all these years that it is not harmful.


Silverhill
Posted 04 January 2008 at 12:21 pm

Not to worry, Mprrich. There's no radium in that kind of glow-in-the-dark paint --- if there were, you wouldn't need to expose the phosphor to light to get it to glow.
Also, the body of the watch would stop most, if not all, of the small amount of gamma radiation accompanying the radium decay (and the alpha particles would be stopped by the watch crystal).


JakobGeorge
Posted 14 January 2008 at 03:49 am

"...many doctors and dentists inexplicably cooperated with the powerful company's disinformation campaign..." One gets the impression that perhaps we might not be able to trust doctors and dentists about other things, too. Flouride, vaccines, pharmaceutical drugs...


unclebob
Posted 13 February 2008 at 02:23 pm

systmh said: "wow. such horrible safety practices were acceptable back then.. so obviously dangerous to us now. makes one wonder, what might our current new technologies be doing to us that we are blissfully unaware of today?"

This a a very good question and the #1 answer of course has to be: The mass use of cellphones by young people nowadays. Holding them next to their skulls for hours every day.
The effects are not known today, so we sont need to start an endless discussion about this here.... but this could be a big ''winner'' of the ''Radium Girls Award'' around the year 2010 or 2020.


Hyram H.
Posted 21 February 2008 at 06:53 am

unclebob said: "This a a very good question and the #1 answer of course has to be: The mass use of cellphones by young people nowadays ... The effects are not known today ...

Ahh, but they are -- and Industry is working together to discredit and obfuscate the dangers of microwave-band radio emmissions the world over. Even Britain's prestigious Royal Society -- the science establishment's most hallowed organisation that counts Sir Isaac Newton as an alumnus -- has said of the published findings from cell-phone studies, that "most are bad science, some can only be science fiction."

If you're curious about the other side of the 'official' story, look for material by Nobel nominee and epidemiologist Dr George Carlo, or that of Jan Walleczek, head of Stanford Medical School's Radiation Oncology department.


Anthropositor
Posted 11 April 2008 at 12:04 pm

This story of profit-based industrial contamination and "The Ethyl-Poisoned Earth" have a lot in common: the government did virtually nothing effective to remedy the disaster, and aided and abetted the companies responsible in a variety of ways, preventing any sort of timely relief to the victims.

The government is complicit in the crime, and it really matters little which party is in power. Influence peddling and the revolving door between government and industry is at the heart of it all.

Another element is the absolute power of the courts. That absolute power is not just the power to decide the issues, but the power to delay or refuse the consideration of them, or simply to refuse to accept jurisdiction in a given pivotal case.

Why do we so easily accept notions that virtually all of our lawmakers and judges need to come from the ranks of lawyers? And why do we not find it unacceptable that legal codes grow ever greater in complexity and confusion?

The nucleus of a legal code can be written in ten sentences. Why should it take an encyclopedic set of codes to cover the details of our rights and responsibilities? And why should they be written in such language that they cannot be clearly interpreted without a specialized translator? This is job insurance for lawyers, judges and legislators.

The simplification of all our legal codes would provide a reduction in the vast jungle of loopholes being so effectively employed by the big predators among us. Predators who now have our leaders in their pockets.

There is not a single valid justification for "earmarking" or for "no bid contracts." I do not recall Greenspan, the guru of our economy for several administrations,. ever coming out against these obvious examples of ongoing governmental fiscal irresponsibility. But these are of far less importance than spending $5000.00 PER SECOND, twenty four hours a day, every day, year after year, with no end even remotely in sight.

This may not be damn interesting. But it is damn serious.


Anthropositor
Posted 11 April 2008 at 12:15 pm

...and as this cost of war goes on, we neglect our infrastructure and ignore the greater potential for disaster as our weather becomes markedly more extreme and volatile.


Krissy
Posted 20 April 2008 at 12:31 am

I am new here and stumbled upon this site the other day when I typed into google "interesting articles" and so this was the site that caught my eye. I scanned through some of the stuff and posts and was absolutely gripped and taken by the sheer brilliance, intelligence, open-mindedness and honesty of thought and feeling put forth by many of you. Particularly Anthropositor.

I know that there is no way that I could possibly measure up to the levels of intelligence, knowledge and esteem that you all have but I will try to do the best that I can to keep up with you. Perhaps I should start by telling you that I am Canadian...not that that should be an "exclusionist" point...at all. I mention it only as a point in fact that I am not American and that I have the ability, as such, to look upon your situations from another standpoint. Not a better standpoint, but a different one.

Some years back I made up my mind to never ever get into a political squabble with an American...especially with their own politics. It is a bloody irrational nightmare and leads to nothing but unnecessary hostility. At the risk of sounding bigoted, I would liken this to a gentile telling jewish jokes...same diff....it doesn't work...everybody gets pissed off in the end. Inferiority complexes are a pain in the ass to deal with.

My best friends are Americans...I studied in the States and I know you people and I find you people to be the most friendly, upfront and hospitable of all the people I have ever known. And I have travelled extensively. But you know what your problem is?

You are too insular...you don't know anything beyond your own immediate scopes. Awareness...knowledge....broadness of thinking...is that such a bad and dangerous and icky and inconvenient thing? But you know what? This is really the wrong forum to spout all this upon....and I am sorry to be dumping this stuff on you but Anthropositor did bring up some questions.

It's a mess..it's all a mess and I don't think that it is fixable. The powers that be don't give a damn (I wonder if the guys at the top who dictate all this corrupt nonsense have looked at the fact that ol' King Tut and his gang of royal cronies didn't make it to the beyond with all the frikken riches and treasures). It all evens out in the end, my friend.


Krissy
Posted 24 April 2008 at 01:46 am

OK...persona non grata I must be here....sigh. I apologise for any sensibilities I might have offended here. Only good intentions and wishes all around.


oldbogeydog
Posted 12 August 2008 at 11:41 am

Regarding an old post by debbiebf on the dangers of aspartame, I agree with Drakvil that it seems to be an "internet hysteria thing." Judge for yourself, though: http://www.snopes.com/medical/toxins/aspartame.asp


comamoto
Posted 28 February 2009 at 12:48 pm

senorstu said: "And didn't "The Mad Hatter" come from the hat makers that went bonkers after exposure to the mercury used to treat the felt?"

"Does anyone still wear a hat?" (Any theatre people in here?)

Did anyone hear/read about this? Slightly off-topic but that's never stopped me...
http://www.cnn.com/2009/WORLD/europe/02/27/uk.teacher.radioactive/

Damned interesting (and tragic) article!


wwone
Posted 01 June 2009 at 05:55 pm

My great grandmother was one of the radium girls and unfortunately, as is usually the case, the women who got sick weren't the only ones to suffer. Because of the exposure my grandmother lost her mom when she was very young and no amount of money (in particularly an embarrassing 10K, 100K, whatever) can make up for that....especially since it paved the way for a very bad childhood under the roof of a resentful stepmother (the likes of which movies are made).

The greatest woman I've ever known (tied with my mom), my grandmother's story has stayed with me and will do so forever. In a way, while I was never fully clear on the Radium Girls story (only the aftermath), the residual effects of the Radium Corp.'s actions will never end. My grandmother talked about her mom and what had happened until the day she died; I wish I would've listened more intently. Thank you for the knowledge you've given about a family history that I was never clear on.


RoflBeard
Posted 14 January 2010 at 08:44 am

I have never heard about this before, very interesting and a very sad story as well.
Who knows what mysterious chemicals etc we might discover and kill ourselfs with next.


OkamiCurse
Posted 21 February 2010 at 05:31 pm

I can't stand people like this. It's wrong and immoral. Sadly stuff like this still happens
overseas. And that's such a horrible way to die.


_Craig_
Posted 05 December 2010 at 02:40 pm

* Thanks for all of your helpful, concerned, and earnest comments.

* Clearly, progress and technology have long ago outpaced what passes for an "informed electorate" and continues to accelerate --toward a corporate technocracy, and a rather malignant one. (I do believe it could be otherwise, with a cultural revolution, centered on the kind of concern evidenced among these comments.)

* Recently, the magazine Scientific American called for a serious examination of the hazards of nano-technology, before we take it any further. The sounding of that alarm made no difference. Nine years ago our government explicitly told recovery crews that the ruins of the World Trade Center were a safe environment to work in. It now appears that more deaths will result from exposure to asbestos particles during the aftermath, than from the collapse of those buildings. Google on problems with mercury in our dental fillings, fluoride in our drinking water, GMO foods, artificial sweeteners --and you'll find a plethora of substantiated cries of alarm --on par with those old public nemeses of lead, asbestos and radioactive substances.

* What's needed is a systemic/cultural change in our society. A new body of belated laws and regulations for each new threat amounts to mopping the floors whilst leaving the sink running over. While I largely agree with Michael Moore that corporate capitalism is inherently dangerous to our nation and its people, most of our society's politics and "business as usual" would proceed toward true progress and benign purposes if the people of our nation were on humanistically and naturalistically spiritual paths.

* Soon, Americans will be staggered by having to admit what really happened during the events surrounding September 11th, 2001. (See the movie: "Loose Change, An American Coup".) Good people must be ready to lead the bewildered along those better paths. No more BS.


Mothra
Posted 18 March 2011 at 09:25 am

This article and it's comments have reduced my workload to 0 today. Damn interesting, and damn disturbing.


Art Classy
Posted 18 June 2012 at 02:22 pm

Wow that is so disturbing. The picture of the 'radium jaw' is so sad. I wonder what that poor woman and others had to suffer and go through with such bizarre sickness.
Just reading that her jaw bones where 'honeycombed' made my skin crawl...


Ginlyf
Posted 17 June 2013 at 01:28 am

"The only side-effect would be rosy cheeks." Bunch of evil motherfucking bastards. To what depths can such corporations sink? Not only did these damned cretins hide the truth, they tainted their reputations too. Syphilis? Are you shitting me? Absolutely appalling.

Really good article though. Very detailed and informative.


Leslie
Posted 10 December 2013 at 06:16 pm

Aero said: "This is a pretty sad article. I wish they had been saved earlier. I can't believe the factory hid all of this. :("

Sadly, corporate America has been guilty of this type of behavior repeatedly.


Kylie Meredith
Posted 26 January 2014 at 09:03 pm

Hoekstes said: "*yawn* can't wait for the new article"

That story was about unbelievable pain and suffering, it was about indescribable injustice and how those women's fight for justice even on their death beds resulted in better working conditions for future generations including yours and all you have to say is "yawn"... Wow... Just wow.


Dismuke
Posted 18 February 2014 at 04:15 am

systmh said: "wow. such horrible safety practices were acceptable back then.. so obviously dangerous to us now. makes one wonder, what might our current new technologies be doing to us that we are blissfully unaware of today?"

You have to remember that back then, when all of this started, literally no one knew the effects that radioactive material would have on biology. I agree on the second part of your quote. They are doing plenty to our health. There are things in products that can still give you cancer as in chemistry. That's why I switched all of my home products and health products over to health food store products. At least you'll have a chance of eating and using things that are safer for your body and I'll die of old age thank you. Generally people don't care one way or the other and that's on them. Just thought you'd like to know.


Justrichardson
Posted 10 March 2014 at 07:53 am

Drakvil said: "Rather than take this whole story as nothing but an example of how some people in one company were evil, we should look at this as an object lesson. As they say about J. P. Morgan, he didn't break any laws but a lot of laws were written because of him. So if you look at the state of this country today, it is much better in regards to this type of issue than it was before the Radium Girls were introduced to their unfortunate fate.

There were no types of employee safeguards in most industries back then and it was a common employer practice (as I learned from a tour of a ghost town mine) that when workers suffered horrific injuries that cost them their health and limbs, the way the employers looked at it was, "he's not able to do his job anymore, so I have no choice but to let him go and find someone who can." No compensation of any kind was ever offered or expected, and this was from the same time period as this article.
Today, every substance that people come into contact with is given large amounts of scrutiny from experts all over the country, and sometimes the world, before it can be released for use by the public, so it isn't practically possible for a substance to be used here without knowing largely what risks are involved. If some company attempted to pull a fake doctor out of the woodwork to pronounce someone "in perfect health", you can bet there will be second opinions sought and the credentials of the first doctor would be checked. If a company rewrote a contracted experts report conclusions and recommendations, the lawsuit and public backlash from the publicity would ruin that company, if not a majority of the industry, in short term.
If someone today were to contract an affliction that was life-threatening, but even curable, from their work environment and the employer provided misinformation about it, do you think the resulting lawsuit would even be able to cover the plaintiffs lawyer's fee with what those poor Radium Girls got as a settlement (in adjusted dollars)[$100k]? I think current plaintiffs would be getting judgements on the order of $3-25 million.
I'm not saying we should overlook the evil of what the company did or the tragic things that happened to the girls, but we should also see the good that their bravery in standing up and fighting, then instituting responsible legislation has brought us. This is also a great lesson for people in other countries to learn so they don't have to repeat mistakes like this at home, but institute reforms before a tragedy of a larger scale strikes."

Trouble with this type of atitude of hes "no longer able to do his job" the injury was caused while performing his job , and the company should be liable for any and all injuries caused by doing a job, no employee goes into a dangerous situation thinking wow i cant wait to do this! they do it because they are forced by thier employer ! and because of that any injuries are the employers fault and they should be held liable . Greed has cost us alot of lives to fill the pockets of the losers who sit in offices, they need to pay when injuries happen there should be no gray area about it .


Raymond De Mouilpied
Posted 14 May 2014 at 03:47 am

It is most unfortunate that the word radium goes well with my name, Ray D M. I came to Australia about 48 years ago, and it was not unusual to see men working 100 to 200 feet in the air on girders, painting them with no safety equiptment. In my short time working there, three men fell to their deaths. I nearly list my own life when a hammer flew out of a workers hand, and whistled by my ear. A few inches to the left and I would have copped it right in the face. At that time, I was sitting on the middle of a girder about 150 feet up, with nothing under me except fresh air. I think how lucky I was that day. Not so for the poor other three. I was only working there for about ten weeks, but I do not know if others fell to their death, through the neglect of bosses to provide proper safety harnesses. It proves that the mighty dollar, holds more value that the human life. This is only part of the story. Ray.


Some guy
Posted 06 June 2014 at 06:07 am

This article gave me the chills. It shows me, that also in the western civilisation these sorts of things happened. And I somehow hoped, that it was only that bad in some of the current "problem" countries...
Aweful News. Well, at least I can be happy about living in a better place now, but I think we have to make sure, it stays that way!

Raymond De Mouilpied said: "It is most unfortunate that the word radium goes well with my name, Ray D M. I came to Australia about 48 years ago, and it was not unusual to see men working 100 to 200 feet in the air on girders, painting them with no safety equiptment. In my short time working there, three men fell to their deaths. I nearly list my own life when a hammer flew out of a workers hand, and whistled by my ear. A few inches to the left and I would have copped it right in the face. At that time, I was sitting on the middle of a girder about 150 feet up, with nothing under me except fresh air. I think how lucky I was that day. Not so for the poor other three. I was only working there for about ten weeks, but I do not know if others fell to their death, through the neglect of bosses to provide proper safety harnesses. It proves that the mighty dollar, holds more value that the human life. This is only part of the story. Ray."

This story reminds me of what I have seen in a documentary about china... I really don't understand how some people can be that heartless. They don't care the faintest bit about their employees. You don't even have to be a religious person to value Life. I mean, even crabs care for their peers...
And I'm glad you survived that job!


JJ
Posted 08 December 2014 at 03:58 am

I guess we can safely assume that in many factories the management's attitude didn't change: Don't do what's good for workers, do only what the law requires, do the minimum you can legally get away with.


END OF COMMENTS
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