When Radioactivity Was Cool (Radium Girls; Quackery; Etc.)

Loquaciousness

The misuse of the word "fact" annoys me
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"Between the years 1917 and 1926, a U.S. corporation manufacturing watches hired 70 women from Essex County, New Jersey. Not even a decade later, nearly 50 of those women had died due to direct contact with radium paint, which ate away at their bones.

The “Radium Girls,” as they were called, were so toxic that you can still feel their presence today. 80 years after their demise, a Geiger counter can jump to uncomfortable levels just standing over their graves. The small-town girls from New Jersey were hired by the company to paint watches with the deadly paint. Their goal was to give the face of the watch a glow-in-the-dark backlight. This new type of watch, popularized by the American Army, was hitting it big in the States...."

More of this fascinating story, including the use of radioactive substances in everyday items such as toothpastes and cosmetics can be found here http://radium-girls.wimp.com/radium...ook.com&utm_medium=social&utm_campaign=story/
 
I used to have 3 items with radium paint back in the 60s - I had a compass my Dad gave me, an old Chinese alarm clock (which didn't work) given to me by my Grandad, and I had a watch that my Dad deliberately broke (or so it seemed).
My Dad confiscated and disposed of all these treasured items when there was a hoo-haa in the press about the dangers of radium paint.
 
Is this the same sort of thing as phossy-jaw?
 
Yes, I think it is.
 
I remember seeing a documentary on these women many moons ago, and feeling outraged. They interviewed what few survivors there were, though I imagine they're all long gone now. One woman I recall had enormous legs because of the tumours. She described how the girls would paint their faces with the radium and switch the lights off so they could mess around in the dark. It was a very disturbing story.
 
Phossy-jaw is due to a different process.

There were also dancers who painted their bodies with radium paint and performed in the dark.
 
Phossy-jaw is due to a different process.

There were also dancers who painted their bodies with radium paint and performed in the dark.
More likely they didn't realise the stuff was so dangerous and did what every wielder of a small brush does : licks it to make a sharper bristle point.
 
I used to have 3 items with radium paint back in the 60s - I had a compass my Dad gave me, an old Chinese alarm clock (which didn't work) given to me by my Grandad, and I had a watch that my Dad deliberately broke (or so it seemed).
My Dad confiscated and disposed of all these treasured items when there was a hoo-haa in the press about the dangers of radium paint.

This makes me think of the Kate Bush song, Cloudbusting:

"You're like my yo-yo
That glowed in the dark
What made it special
Made it dangerous
So I bury it
And forget"
 
More likely they didn't realise the stuff was so dangerous and did what every wielder of a small brush does : licks it to make a sharper bristle point.

Yep - that's long been the most commonly cited explanation.
 
Bump ...

Thie CNN article provides an overview of the radioactive products crazes that flourished (and damaged or even killed users) in the days before radiation's perils were understood.
When beauty products were radioactive

miracle cream was launched in Paris in 1933. Billed as a "scientific beauty product," it promised to improve circulation, firm muscle tissue, reduce fat and smooth wrinkles. It was part of a line of cosmetics called Tho-Radia -- after thorium and radium, the radioactive elements it contained.

Today, no one would intentionally smear radioactive materials on their face, but in 1933, the dangers of radioactivity were not yet fully understood. This mysterious new form of energy, discovered by French physicist Henri Becquerel in 1896, had become imbued with mythical powers.

"Before people started to fear radioactivity, all they seemed to know about it was that it contained energy," said Timothy J. Jorgensen, an associate professor of radiation medicine at Georgetown University, in a phone interview. "There were implications that the energy would help your teeth if they put it in toothpaste and give you a glowing expression if they put it in facial cream. But there really wasn't any science to show that it was true." Soon after its discovery, radioactive beauty products were hitting the shelves. ...

The creams didn't work as advertised but that didn't stop Tho-Radia cosmetics from becoming popular. It's full range of products all purported to unleash the benefits of radioactivity, including lipstick and facial powder, as well as ointments, soap, suppositories, razor blades, energy drinks and even condoms. ...
FULL STORY: https://www.cnn.com/style/article/when-beauty-products-were-radioactive/index.html
 
The French Tho-Radia line of beauty products included creams, powders, lipstick, and even toothpaste. They were marketed from the 1930s to the 1950s. Only during the early days did these products contain radium and / or thorium compounds.

Tho-Radia-Ad.jpg
See Also:

https://www.orau.org/ptp/collection/quackcures/Tho Radia Cards.html
http://lucyjanesantos.com/alfred-curie-tho-radia/
 
About the Radium Girls ...

The Radium Girls were female factory workers who contracted radiation poisoning from painting watch dials with self-luminous paint. Painting was done by women at three different United States Radium factories, and the term now applies to the women working at the facilities: one in Orange, New Jersey, beginning around 1917; one in Ottawa, Illinois, beginning in the early 1920s; and a third facility in Waterbury, Connecticut.

The women in each facility had been told the paint was harmless, and subsequently ingested deadly amounts of radium after being instructed to "point" their brushes on their lips in order to give them a fine tip; some also painted their fingernails, face and teeth with the glowing substance. The women were instructed to point their brushes because using rags, or a water rinse, caused them to waste too much time and waste too much of the material made from powdered radium, gum arabic and water.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Radium_Girls
 
One of the most dramatic victims of the radium craze was Eben Byers, whose demise was caused by his heavy use of an alleged "energy drink" (as we'd call it today) named Radithor.

Radithor's label proclaimed it to be "CERTIFIED Radioactive Water" containing "Radium and Mesothorium in Triple Distilled Water."

Radithor was manufactured from 1918 to 1928 by the Bailey Radium Laboratories, Inc., of East Orange, New Jersey. The owner of the company and head of the laboratories was listed as William J. A. Bailey, a dropout from Harvard College, who was not a medical doctor. It was advertised as "A Cure for the Living Dead" as well as "Perpetual Sunshine". The expensive product was claimed to cure impotence, among other ills.

Eben Byers, a wealthy American socialite, athlete, industrialist and Yale College graduate, died from Radithor radium poisoning in 1932.[5] Byers was buried in a lead-lined coffin; when exhumed in 1965 for study, his remains were still highly radioactive. ...

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Radithor

See Also:

https://web.archive.org/web/2010120...exhibit/neighborhoods/northside/nor_n106.html
https://theconversation.com/when-energy-drinks-actually-contained-radioactive-energy-67976
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eben_Byers
 
I had a glow in the dark rabbit ornament in the very early '50's -I can still visualise it.
My mother got rid of it when she heard that the paint was dangerous.
My Dad confiscated various items of mine when he realised that they were radioactive. A watch, an alarm clock and a compass - all had dots of radium paint on them.
 
My understanding was that radium was harmless unless ingested.
 
My understanding was that radium was harmless unless ingested.

That's correct. The radium paint used in old clocks (etc.) is a beta emitter that poses no appreciable radiation risk as long as it remains enclosed (e.g., behind glass).
 
OT but a friend brought a mate of his around many years ago and he handed over a small metal tube that he was using to keep his hash in. It felt warm, really warm.
'That's cool' I said, not ironically. 'Where did you get it?' I asked.
'I stole it from my new job.' He said.
'Where do you work?'
'I've got a new job at the AWRE.' He said. FFS.
 
OT but a friend brought a mate of his around many years ago and he handed over a small metal tube that he was using to keep his hash in. It felt warm, really warm.
'That's cool' I said, not ironically. 'Where did you get it?' I asked.
'I stole it from my new job.' He said.
'Where do you work?'
'I've got a new job at the AWRE.' He said. FFS.
:eek:
I'd have backed away.
 
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:eek:
I'd have backed away.
I threw it at him and told him he was a f**king idiot (my uncle was scientist that worked there and died of lung cancer even though he'd never smoked a cigarette in his life). He was sacked a couple of weeks later and my mate told me he was meant to test the labs for radiation levels but he just signed the paperwork without doing his job.
Several lab technicians badges lit up and had to leave as they got over the safe life-time worth of dosage. Prick.
 
That's correct. The radium paint used in old clocks (etc.) is a beta emitter that poses no appreciable radiation risk as long as it remains enclosed (e.g., behind glass).

Workers were at risk from radium if they were doing close work with it, such as painting the luminous marks on clock faces etc.
 
When I was little there was an alarm clock beside my bed (you know, the traditional ones with the two bells) and it had green dots next to each number that would light up in the dark. I think, from memory, the hands had a green strip on them as well.

Would that have been a radioactive clock? :actw:
 
When I was little there was an alarm clock beside my bed (you know, the traditional ones with the two bells) and it had green dots next to each number that would light up in the dark. I think, from memory, the hands had a green strip on them as well.
Would that have been a radioactive clock? :actw:

Maybe; maybe not. The features you describe appeared on older clocks whose luminescence was based on radioactive decay as well as later clocks exploiting non-radioactive luminescence. If the glow had to be "charged up" with UV or bright visible light it wasn't generated by radioactive decay.
 
When I was little there was an alarm clock beside my bed (you know, the traditional ones with the two bells) and it had green dots next to each number that would light up in the dark. I think, from memory, the hands had a green strip on them as well.

Would that have been a radioactive clock? :actw:
Yes. It sounds exactly like the one my Grandad gave me.
 
Many years ago I listened to a BBC radio programme about a radium health spa, in Czechoslovakia in the '50's I think.

Anyway, it was all about how some fella was promoting radium treatments. People were going away feeling wonderfully invigorated, some even going back for revisits.

But custom dropped off as parts of their bodies did!

I recommend this 1957 Disney production to help you feel comfortable about our relationship with all things radioactive.

 
Have a look at the small print on the back of your smoke detector most use
Americium-241 (241Am, Am-241) is an isotope of americium. Like all isotopes of americium, it is radioactive, with a half-life of 432.2 years.
but it's much more likely to save you from frying in a fire that frying you with radiation.
 
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