The Unknown Decay from the Radiant Element of Deceit 

Topics: Marie Curie

What the radium dial painters experienced is haunting and mystifying. Knowledge is power and the extensive information we know today compared to the minuscule knowledge of the late 1800s is truly mind-warping. In this paper, the author will discuss the history of the watch dial painters, approximate doses, studies that were done on the pathology, and the principles of as low as reasonably achievable (ALARA). Thinking back on these times may reflect the simpler and better days, but this unfortunate event defines the history of the discovery of an unknown natural, yet destructive element of earth.

A French physicist named Mr. Henri Becquerel announced the primary radioactive disclosure in 1896. He found the element uranium radiated nuclear particles that could go through an aluminum sheet, making a sparkle of light spots on photographic film. Uniting were two recently wedded physicists, Mr. Pierre and Mrs. Marie Curie, that went up against Becquerel’s work. They declared their revelation of two new elements in 1898, the two

Figure 1 of which released particles at a more vital rate than uranium.

One of the elements they named polonium, after Marie Curie’s native Poland. The second element they named radiation itself, calling it radium (Blum, Molteni, Rogers & Gonzalez, 2011).

The three researchers shared the 1903 Nobel Prize in Physics for this splendid research. It was radium, my beautiful radium as Marie considered it, that appeared most encouraging of the newfound elements. Polonium was strongly dynamic; it consumed itself with extreme heat in about one year. Uranium was more steady, yet appeared to be less empowering by releasing its radiation slowly over time.

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Uranium decays gradually with a half-life of 1600 years and expels a consistent energy release. Pierre and Marie estimated radium’s power roughly 3,000 times that of uranium. It was somewhat similar to finding an exceptionally small star covered in the soil. The Curies had confined just 100 milligrams of unadulterated radium from somewhere in the range of three tons of uranium ore. Be that as it may, that just gave it the charm of something genuinely rare (Blum, et al., 2011).

In the next years radium truly appeared as a natural enchantment. It was utilized to regard restorative conditions

Figure 2 and utilized as magnificent items: radium soft drinks, sweets, facial creams, and facial powder. It was being made with cleansers, alleviating balms, and moisturizers. Specialists found that the European hot springs renowned for their recuperating powers contained radon a gas that got from the element uranium. Moore states:

Dial-painting was the hot new news and light switches for better visualization. It is estimated that over several decades, approximately 4000 women were used around the nation as radium painters.

The radium corporations were using the paint called Undark to paint the dials of watches. It was all magic and fun in the beginning. The girls would paint this poison on their nails, lips, hair, and even teeth. They would place the brush between their lips to make a nice fine point to paint the letters on the faces of the watches. Later to their demise, it would be discovered that this action was the kiss of death for these poor young ladies. Radium at this time was a miracle element that was being used for all kinds of health benefits and it glowed with so much promise.

The radium dial painters of the U.S Radium Corporation worked in a factory in

Figure 3 Orange, New Jersey. Undark gained its glow from the element radium. By 1924, as workers continued to die, managers at the U.S. Radium Company hired a team of scientists from Harvard University to investigate the accelerating reach of inexplicable death (Blum et al., 2011).

About four years after World War I, Miss Alexia (Mollie) Maggia, a twenty-four-year-old former employee at a dial-painting factory, died. She was the first factory girl to pass away. Unfortunately, others followed and more women began to feel sick. Miss Katherine Schaub, one of the hardest working young women, moved her way up in the factory to be a glorious watch dial painter. It was a glamorous job to most women; the glow was like a moth to the flame. Sadly, a few years her teeth started falling out. Dentists said they looked moth-eaten. Other dial-painters began to suffer spontaneous fractures and poor health. (Moore, 2016)

Before the tragic death of Mollie Maggia, she worked at the U.S. Radium Corporation for only four years, painting watches with the deadly paint infamously lip-pointing to create the thin point of the brush. In 1921, she suddenly dropped weight.She went to t doctor and explained that her joints started to ache and she found herself moving slowly like an elderly woman. The next year, Maggia’s dentist realized her jaw was falling apart. She started experiencing debilitating anemia due to the constant bleeding from her mouth and sadly died in September 1923. The cause of death on her certificate strangely claimed “ulcerative stomatitis” (Blum et al., 2011, p. 3)

Trained forensic pathologist Mr. Harrison S. Martland, of Essex County, N.J., had discovered Maggia on a record of previous dial painters. Mr. Martland was engrossed in his efforts to prove radium as a conceivable toxic substance and he speculated the conclusion that radium was a miracle element was off-base. The side effects read like classic radium affliction. Martland did not accuse the staff physician and was stunned to acknowledge how debilitating the element was. Martland’s first report on the dial painters was titled “Some Unrecognized Dangers in the Use and Handling of Radioactive Substances”. According to their studies:

Some fifteen girls whose deaths were attributed to radium-mesothorium poisoning incurred while they were employed at painting watch dials with luminous paint, two were found to have osteogenic sarcoma of the bone. The etiology, the general and the special symptomatology, the pathologic anatomy, the prognosis, and the treatment of this new industrial hazard were first described by Martland and his associates in 1925 and 1926. (1973, p. 368)

This event dates back to a time when doses were not measured. Scientific evidence has found these girls absorbed a pretty high accumulative dose over the handful of years they ingested this radioactive paint and inhaled the ominous sparkling dust. This radiation stayed inside them. This makes one wonder if, what is ingested and inhaled throughoutsulfide only a handful of years, can cause biological harm.

According to doctors Martland and Humphries (1973) “the paint used consisted of crystalline phosphorescent zinc sulphide, ZnS (Sidot’s blend), rendered luminous by the addition of extremely

Figure 4 small amounts of radium, mesothorium and, radiothorium” (p. 368). Radioactive materials used in the paint were as insoluble sulfates. The method of harm was by swallowing the poison. Inferable from a regular propensity by the laborers of putting their brushes in their mouths while painting, they gulped little measures of the radioactive paint for quite a while. They were additionally presented to radioactivity by soaking the substance through the skin and by inspiring the residue of the ominous paint. These gateways, however, were not viewed as such a big deal. The young ladies harmed had consumed the paint for about four-plus years.

The specialists presumed the ladies were actually breathing out radon gas. That finding gave the primary hint regarding what was going on to the dial painters. It was likewise a demonstration of how paintersthen the how a woman’s how radium worked; particularly its normally reckless nature. The component existed in a condition of self breakdown, disposing of ofproducesan overabundance of parts as it rotted, subatomic particles effervescing without end every which way, deserting a considerably more unequal substance, inclined to prompt further rot. As radium vaporizes, the subsequent decay of items produce the hyper-charged element polonium and radon gas. (Blum et al., 2011).

Radium was then “radioactive” because it was constantly turning into something else, shedding its radioactive shell as it did so in the form of energetic subatomic particles.  The primary emissions from radium were called alpha particles. Alpha particles are small compact groups of protons and neutrons. As alpha particles sped away, they took with them some of the energy-charged life of the element. The movement of charged particles was often referred to as alpha radiation. Radium emitted other forms of radiation but Martland calculated that more than 90 percent of the particles shooting out of radium came from alpha radiation. This was not all that bad because alpha particles were like random weak bits of atomic energy. They could be halted simply by a sheet of paper, a layer of clothing, or even the outer layer of dead cells that overlay the skin. The other forms of radiation were actually more dangerous. Beta radiation is Humphries’seffortlessly sliced through paper but could be stopped by a sheet of aluminum while gamma radiation could only be blocked by a dense material such as lead (Blum, et al., 2011).

Martland and Humphries (19explairt explain that continuous radiation from the deposits, a radiation osteitis often developed in these cases, similar to that seen in bones as a result of large doses of external irradiation. The mouth is the dirtiest part of the body. Because of the proximity to the mandible and the maxilla, a bacterial infection, usually from the gums and teeth, results in gruesome necrosis of the jaw. This combined with the anemia, formed the outstanding clinical features of the early fatal cases.

With radium viewed as a wonder drug, the toxic element was not believed to be the cause. In 1925 Martland proved the connection between the women’s work and their illnesses after discovering that radium had been woman deposited in the women’s bones. This diagnosis should have resulted in the suspension of dial-painting all over America, but the radium companies were making too much money to allow the fate of a couple of dial-painters to halt business (Moore, 2016).

In 2002, Winkelstein reviewed that a study by a Harvard University team led by physiologist Cecil K. Drinker and another independent investigation by statistician Frederick L. Hoffman, previous president of the American Statistical Association, provided support for the causal role of radium poisoning. The exact amount of dial painters that withered from radium poisoning is not known. Considering the large number of workers employed in dial painting, the number must have been a substantially dreadful decaying life for those poor souls.

Blum et al., (2011) note, that sthatcientists from New York City precisely figured out how to detect aging bones for proof of this unknown element. They started by removing the remaining tissue from the bones, and burned them into ash. The scientists sterilized with heat a selection of bones, including, the two-inch“skull, five cervical vertebrae, five slices of rib, both feet, femurs, the right tibia, and the right fibula for hours in a solution of washing soda. The bones were scrubbed, air-dried, the larger ones sawed into two inch pieces” (pg.3).

According to Blum et al. (2011), the readied bones and the tissue’s fiery remains were then taken into a dark room and placed on X-ray films enveloped by dark photographic paper. At that point for examination, the painters then experienced a similar procedure with the bones from typical corpse. The bone, tissue, and films were left to sit for ten days in a dark room with the likelihood, “If radioactive, the bones and the tissue ash would emit rays, and the beta and gamma rays would penetrate the black paper and affect the photographic film” (p.3).

The distributed photos of the dial painter’s bones revealed a shimmer of specks, featured against a dark backing, as indisputable as the sparkle of a star clustersoccupational-related a dull night. By contrast, “Those films on which normal bones were placed are not shown, because they did not show any impression” (p.3). From Amelia Maggia’s remains, “every piece of bone, as well as every tissue ash that we examined, showed radioactivity by the photographic method” (p.3). If a dead woman’s bones still glimmered with beams of radium they realized that in all probability radiation was inside the

Figure 5 bones of the living painters (Blum, et al., 2011).

The instance of the radium young ladies prompted across the board occupational related risks all through the United States, associating the media, restorative network, and open, and administrative bodies out of the blue. It prompted the foundation of the Center for Human Biology at Argonne National Laboratory, which examined the issue until 1993. Around then, about 3200 radium painters had been recognized and almost 1600 had been inspected. The report affirmed that being a radium painter before 1930 was unsafe. Be that as it may, if the laborers did not create radiation-actuated malignancies, the report found no other expanded danger of death. Moreover, there had all the earmarks of being an edge portion for the improvement of malignancies, around 1000 times characteristic levels, beneath which no instances of danger had been analyzed. By far The painter’s of specialists in the radium dial processing plants had endured no evident sick impacts and achieved a ready maturity. Thepainter’s remainder of the painters passed on in 2014 at 107 years old (Yardly, 2014).

The radium painters case built up and support the field of medical physics. Not long after the young ladies’ story came out to the general public, Theradiology started to build up the idea of dose, with the creation of radiation monitors and other quantitative estimations of radiation presentation. After a year, the United States Advisory Committee on X-ray and Radium Protection was shaped. The case prompted critical enactment and government direction went well-being toward the well-being and security of laborers. Also, it built up another lawful point of reference in the United States. The privilege of single laborers to sue a business for the advancement of occupational caused illnesses. This tale has been brought to light in various outlets, such as: the 2000 play, Radium Girl, by D. W. Gregory, and to add the books Deadly Glow, Radium Girls, and The Poisoner’s Handbook. In 2011, a statue was uncovered in Ottawa, Ill, site of one of the radium watch dial industrial facilities, remembering the radium young ladies. Their story is a precursor of contemporary discussions of safety and dose reduction in radiologic modalities such as computed tomography and stays a standout amonamonggst the most striking in the whole history of radiobiology (Gunderman & Gonda, 2015).

ALARA is a principle that was not a glimmer in the minds of people of the 1920sfactory-like. Time, distance, and shielding are factors that if applied could have possibly prevented many illnesses and deaths. They could have limited the time the workers were allowed to be exposed to this paint. Or more importantly, shielded their skin with special clothing or some sort of protective suit. They could have worn gloves and used a wet cloth to point the brush tip instead of their lips. They could have worn masks to protect from inhaling the dust that filled the factory like a haze of poison. There are so many precautionary measures that should have been implemented, but these things would have cost the factory money. That is probably why the workers were told intact was safe in the first place. It was not worth losing money over these human lives. The fact Becausehighlights the corporate monsters of the radium companies knew it was dangerous to the painters, so they kept quiet. Money is truly the root of all evil, and this story is highlights that sad reality.

1940 was considered the golden age of radiation protection. This event could have been prevented with just a decade more of research, but the 1920s just missed the mark. This event almost seems like it was the straw that broke the unprotected realm of safety in radioactive materials. In this paper, the author discussed the history of the watch dial painters, approximate doses, studies that were done on the pathology, and the principles of ALARA. Matters arenotpaido taken lightly because if the information of today was known back then, many lives could have been spared. Unfortunately, these women’s lives payed the price for the future of radiation protection.

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The Unknown Decay from the Radiant Element of Deceit . (2022, May 13). Retrieved from

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