Radium workers begin to die of radiation poisoning

1922 CEUnited States

"Beginning in the 1910s and continuing through the 1920s, more than 3,000 girls and young women seized upon a new and unusual work opportunity: painting glow-in-the-dark numerals on the dials of watches, clocks and military equipment. The numerals glowed because the paint contained radium. Because the work required fine detail to paint the tiny numbers, the factory supervisors instructed the women to lick their camel-hair brushes to a point before and after dipping the brushes in the radium paint. When some of the women inquired whether lip pointing, as the technique was known, was really safe, the supervisors assured them it was . . . But by the late 1920s, many of the women involved in this work had fallen dangerously ill, and several had died of suspected radiation poisoning. The alpha radiation in the paint they had ingested had eaten away their bones from the inside out. "

Ron Cowen, "New Jersey’s ‘Radium Girls’ and the NIST-Trained Scientist Who Came to Their Aid," National Institute of Standards and Technology, March 16, 2022.

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