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Damn Interesting! "Undark and the Radium Girls"

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Kingshakabobo Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Mon Jan-01-07 06:53 PM
Original message
Damn Interesting! "Undark and the Radium Girls"
Edited on Mon Jan-01-07 06:54 PM by Kingshakabobo
This is from my new favorite website, Lots of neat stuff well as this disgusting story of corporate murder and greed. I remember my dad telling me about this story when I was a kid...

Undark and the Radium Girls

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.


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Taxloss Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Mon Jan-01-07 07:03 PM
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1. Wow - Triangle Shirtwaist with radioactivity!
Thank you for the link.
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Kingshakabobo Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Mon Jan-01-07 07:32 PM
Response to Reply #1
4. I had to Google Triangle Shirtwaist.........
....another one I vaguely remember hearing about.

These are the stories I think about when freepers complain about the "nanny state."
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Hekate Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Mon Jan-01-07 07:04 PM
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2. Ew. As I recall the story, the girls would lick their little paintbrushes as they worked...
... not for the taste, obviously, but to moisten them. Hence the jaw decay.

Even years later, wristwatches sometimes had too much radium to be safe. My dad, who loved gadgets, got a glow in the dark watch in the late 1950s. I mean that thing really glowed. My dad liked to wear it to bed, but my mom didn't think it was all that safe. Eventually he got a round rash on his skin where the face of the watch sat -- and eventually there was some newspaper article about that brand having excess radiation.

Since I was a little kid at the time, I have no recollection about recalls or anything like that, but it has stuck in my mind as the way we and our industries can be careless long after certain dangers are known.


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Poll_Blind Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Mon Jan-01-07 07:17 PM
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3. Thank you for passing this along. These little incidents often get...
...swept under the rug after a generation or two and unless you're reading a book on the subject already, you're not going to hear about it. Not on American television, anyway. I could see the CBC or BBC doing a piece on this sort of thing, a retrospective but asking questions like "Are we safer today?" or some such.

  It's really heinous that people will do in the name of a corporation, especially one they hold stake in. It removes some of the "conscience" factor. People rationalize that it's not them doing it, they're just a small part of "the company". Of course that might hold true for a liver or heart in a human but a person is an individual, capable of autonomous thought- not just when it suits them.

  It could be just general paranoia, but I think things like this are fairly common. I really can't explain why I think this except I have known and seen enough things in life to believe, based on my experiences, that people without a conscience are capable of amazingly selfish acts. And some of the worst things that a person can do only require a little physical effort, a little concentration to accomplish.

  It concerns me what otherwise good people will do when their self-interest is at stake, and how easily it can happen. Like the guys who played "doctor" in the article you posted. I'm sure they probably loved their kids, were good husbands, helped the stranded motorist on the deserted road- the works. And yet...with their self-interest at heart they made terrible choices. Of course they could have been bastards, and obvious about it. But from my experience, there aren't as many of those to spot as you might think.


  I'm not sure how you would do that, but I'm sure given enough accountants and lawyers anything's possible.

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dipsydoodle Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Mon Jan-01-07 07:37 PM
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5. Reminds me of the "Match Girls"
...........the women had been severely affected by the phosphorous that they used to make the matches. This caused yellowing of the skin and hair loss and phossy jaw, a form of bone cancer. The whole side of the face turned green and then black, discharging foul-smelling pus and finally death. Although phosphorous was banned in Sweden and the USA, the British government had refused to follow their example, arguing that it would be a restraint of free trade.

I'd wondered if the "strike" at the match factory was the origin of that word in context of a labour dispute but no -it's a nautical expression used in context of navel yard disputes. You couldn't shift a square masted ship with its sails struck.
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LiberalEsto Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Mon Jan-01-07 09:11 PM
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6. Radioactive material dumped all around NJ
Back when I was a young newspaper reporter in central NJ in the 1970s, I remember writing stories about all the radioactive material that was dumped around buildings that were being used in the Manhattan Project (to develop the A-bomb)during WW2. This was mostly soil from which the uranium had been removed. From what I recall people hauled the dirt home to use in their gardens, not knowing it was deadly.

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drm604 Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Mon Jan-01-07 10:38 PM
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7. Thank you for posting this. I first heard this story as a child in school.
Since then I've run into it many times over the years. It was always a short statement about girls who painted watch dials with radium paint who licked the brushes to shape them and eventually developed bone problems and cancers because of it. It was often framed as being one of the things that led to recognition of the dangers of radiation. Until now, I was completely unaware of the evil actions of their employer and had assumed that it had occurred because of everybody's ignorance about the dangers. It's amazing, and disturbing, how Undark's disinformation campaign seems to be affecting us to this day.
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Kingshakabobo Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Tue Jan-02-07 02:46 PM
Response to Reply #7
8. Yes. Sheds a new light on it, doesn't it. n/t
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