In light of this thread, anyone interested in the early use of radium in the
US might want to look at a post on my blog at
It deals with George F. Barker's notable lecture at Columbia University in
Mark Grossman, CIH, CSP
Briarcliff Manor, NY
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----- Original Message -----
From: "Peter Zavon"
Sent: Thursday, January 01, 2015 12:09 PM
Subject: Re: [DCHAS-L] C&EN SafetyZone blog: 'Oops‰?? is never good
occupational health policy
> In a documentary on PBS about the radium dial painters (broadcast more
> than 15 years ago, I think) a short black and white movie clip of the
> actual dial painting activity was included. It was absolutely clear to me
> that they were pointing the brush AFTER dipping in the paint and BEFORE
> applying paint to the dial. That clearly gave the best point for
> painting, but, in my opinion, increased the likely radium ingestion as
> compared to pointing after painting the dial and before dipping in the
> paint for the next numeral.
> Peter Zavon, CIH
> Penfield, NY
> -----Original Message-----
> From: DCHAS-L Discussion List [mailto:dchas-l**At_Symbol_Here**MED.CORNELL.EDU] On Behalf
> Of Ralph Stuart
> Sent: Tuesday, December 30, 2014 8:25 AM
> To: DCHAS-L**At_Symbol_Here**MED.CORNELL.EDU
> Subject: [DCHAS-L] C&EN SafetyZone blog: 'Oops‰?? is never good occupational
> health policy
> ‰??‰??Oops‰?? is never good occupational health policy‰??
> by Jyllian Kemsley
> The headline is from Deborah Blum, author of "The Poisoner's Handbook," as
> quoted in an NPR story about Mae Keane. Keane was briefly one of the
> "Radium Girls" who painted glow-in-the-dark wristwatches in the 1920s.
> Here's a bit more context, plus the full quote:
> In order to get the numbers small enough, new hires were taught to do
> something called "lip pointing." After painting each number [with radium
> paint], they were to put the tip of the paintbrush between their lips to
> sharpen it.
> Twelve numbers per watch, upwards of 200 watches per day ‰?? and with every
> digit, the girls swallowed a little bit of radium.
> "Of course, no one thought it was dangerous in these first couple of
> years," explains Deborah Blum, author of The Poisoner's Handbook.
> Deborah Blum says the radium girls had a profound impact on workplace
> regulations. By the time World War II came around, the federal government
> had set basic safety limits for handling radiation.
> And, she says, there are still lessons to be learned about how we protect
> people who work with new, untested substances.
> "We really don't want our factory workers to be the guinea pigs for
> discovery. 'Oops' is never good occupational health policy."
> Searching C&EN archives, it seems that it took a while for people to
> embrace those basic radiation safety limits. From a 1951 story from the
> American Industrial Hygiene Association's 12th annual meeting:
> Unsafe working conditions were found in the handling of radium, x-ray, and
> fluoroscopic equipment in every one of 12 hospitals surveyed recently,
> William LaRocque, of the Liberty Mutual Insurance Co., told a mixed group
> of scientists and medical specialists at this meeting. In some cases, he
> said, radiation in excess of maximum permissable doses was detected in
> hospital offices as well as in laboratories and operating rooms.
> LaRocque found physicians handling radium sources with virtually no
> protection whatever. Between uses radium was stored in everything from
> water glasses to tin cans. Because of the value of the radium it was often
> stored in office safes which afforded little resistance to the radiation.
> Some dental x-ray equipment surveyed irradiated the operator to a maximum
> permissable dose after as few as five exposures had been made.
> Fluoroscopes and diagnostic x-ray apparatus were often inadequately
> shielded or were used in a dangerous manner. In one case reported, the
> lead glass on a fluoroscope screen had not been replaced although it had
> been cracked "for years."
> Contrary to experience reported by earlier investigators, LaRocque said
> that the medical men and roetgenologists involved seemed anxious to learn
> about these hazards and to take steps to correct the dangerous conditions.
> LaRocque attributed the situation to ignorance rather than lethargy. He
> said that in none of these cases had there ever been any planned system of
> health protection in connection with radiation hazards and he made a
> strong plea to the assembled industrial hygienists to take positive steps
> to overcome the present complacency about these hazards.
> Jyllian Kemsley | December 30, 2014 at 8:30 am |
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