From: Jeffrey Lewin <jclewin**At_Symbol_Here**MTU.EDU>
Subject: Re: [DCHAS-L] Common industrial lab safety practices 1906-1930?
Date: Fri, 9 Jun 2017 20:49:28 +0000
Reply-To: ACS Division of Chemical Health and Safety <DCHAS-L**At_Symbol_Here**PRINCETON.EDU>
Message-ID: CAEwQnqguNBVCu=VsCadC_K-27aNZxSyFiJHDuV2GmK-xy6wbwQ**At_Symbol_Here**

My "go to" for this era is the conditions found in the US Radium plant, aka The Radium Girls.

A short excerpt from:

Robert R. Johnson
For the Love of Pretty Things
The Radium Girls and "Dying for Science"

In the early twenties, U.S. Ra-
dium contracted with a noted

Harvard toxicologist, Dr. Cecil

Drinker, to conduct a study of work-
ing conditions at U.S. Radium=E2=80™s New

Jersey facilities. Drinker was a highly

respected scientist who, at the time

of the U.S. Radium operation, was

helping to develop the field of indus-
trial hygiene. He'd begun a research

facility at Harvard in the School of

Public Health, and had studied the

poisonous effects of manufacturing-
created dust on the respiration and

blood content of workers in the zinc

industry. (He eventually concluded

that the culprit was manganese.) His

contract with U.S. Radium was his

first foray into studying the indus-
trial hazards of radiation.

Drinker examined the workplace

in Orange and observed an environ-
ment replete with radium-tainted

dust, open containers of highly ra-
dioactive paints, poor ventilation,

and other problematic conditions.

He also took blood samples from the

workers on the shop floor as well

as the scientists working in the ad-
joining labs. What he found was di-
sastrous. Every one of the workers

suffered from dangerous blood con-
ditions. He encountered several cases

of radium necrosis; he noticed, too,


that a chemist, Edward Lehman, had

severe lesions on his hands and arms.

Lehman dismissed the idea that Un-
dark had anything to do with his le-
sions or that there was any threat to

his future health from continued ex-
posure to the substance.

Lehman would die within the


Drinker remarked that Lehman's

attitude of complacency was ram-
pant at the company. "There seemed

to be an utter lack of realization of

the dangers inherent in the mate-
rial that was being manufactured."

U.S. Radium sold the sand-like res-
idue of the radium paint process as

filler for children's sandboxes. When

parents questioned the safety of the

sand, von Sochocky assuaged them

by telling them that the sand was

"most hygienic and... more ben-
eficial than the mud of world-re-
nowned curative baths."

On Fri, Jun 9, 2017 at 4:31 PM Reinhardt, Peter <peter.reinhardt**At_Symbol_Here**> wrote:


With the wisdom of this listserve, I bet a few of you may provide some information on this topic.

A family member is writing a history of a relative who was a Harvard-educated dye chemist at a New England textile firm from 1906 until about 1930. At that time his health began to deteriorate and he "retired" from chemistry. He died in 1936 of liver cancer at 51 years of age.

Both she and I know it is highly speculative to associate his work and poor health, but she wonders what laboratory safety precautions might have been in common industrial use during that time. Do you know?

When I worked at the University of Wisconsin, a retired chemistry professor there told me that his first "gas mask" was purchased from army surplus prior to WW II. In my career, I've helped remodel labs with functional fume hoods dating from the 1920s. Were masks, gloves, hoods, etc. in common use in industrial labs between 1906 and 1930?

Perhaps there is a book that traces this safety history. If so, I'd appreciate hearing about it.

Thank you!


Peter A. Reinhardt

Director, Office of Environmental Health & Safety

Yale University

135 College St., Suite 100

New Haven, CT 06510-2411

(203) 737-2123


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Jeff Lewin
Chemical Safety Officer
Compliance, Integrity, and Safety
Environmental Health and Safety
Michigan Technological University
Houghton, MI 49931

O 906-487.3153
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