Hoping to get your pearly whites brighter?
Try radioactive toothpaste!
Is that a sad, boring piece of toast?
Spread on some radium butter for a tasty treat.
Looking worn out?
Don’t forget to treat your skin with radium cosmetics, for that bright, youthful look.
Considering what we now know about the dangers of radiation, these products seem preposterous.
But they were real.
In the early 20th century, the harmful effects of radiation exposure weren’t fully known
until a group of women in New Jersey paid a fatal price for us to find out.
So, what is radium anyway?
Well, radium is a chemical element that was discovered by Marie and Pierre Curie in 1898.
It’s found in uranium ore and is formed when uranium and thorium break down.
It’s highly radioactive, which means it gives off energy called radiation.
And that radioactivity is actually useful in treating cancers, which is exactly what
radium was used for shortly after its isolation.
In addition to all of that, it also gives off a pretty cool faint, blue glow.
现在 20世纪初 这种神奇的治愈功能和能发射出
Now, at the beginning of the 20th century, the mystical healing properties and glow of
radium were being used by advertisers to sell a range of products from food to cosmetics.
It was like the early 1900’s version of kale, except instead of being a leafy green,
its horrifically deadly radiation salts.
有时它不过是一个讨巧的活动策划 但是有些产品 比如饮品
Sometimes this was just a clever marketing ploy, but certain products, like the drink
Radithor, actually contained small amounts of the chemical element.
The elixir was famously used by celebrity golf champion Eben Byers, who later died from
But it wasn’t radium’s medicinal uses that led to the exposure of it dangerous side
It was its use in glow-in-the dark paint.
In Orange, New Jersey, the United States Radium Corporation used a radioluminescent paint
called “Undark” to illuminate the dials on watches used by the military.
The women working in the factory who painted the watches were instructed to use their lips
to fashion their brushes to a fine point.
And while their clothes and hair would glow from the radiation exposure, they were all
assured it was safe.
But then, the eventually nicknamed “Radium Girls” started to become gravely ill.
她们的牙齿脱落 她们的骨头折断 甚至连她们的下颌骨都脱落了
Their teeth fell out, their bones broke, their jaws actually fell apart.
At first, the miraculous radium wasn’t the suspected culprit for all of this.
但是 在1925年 一位医疗检查专家有了一个惊人的发现：这些女工
But, in 1925, a medical examiner made the shocking discovery: the radium that they were
在她们的头发 衣服 皮肤和嘴唇上涂抹的镭元素被吸收进了她们的骨骼中
putting on their hair, clothes, skin and lips had been absorbed into the women’s bones.
Radium, as it turns out, is easily mistaken for calcium by the human body.
And once it’s absorbed, the radium blasts the bones with alpha rays, resulting in bone
damage, cell mutation and cancer.
Some of the workers sued the U.S. Radium Corporation, but their employer fought back, blaming the
women’s worsening health conditions on syphilis.
The women settled their case out of court, receiving a lifetime annuity and medical benefits.
Within a decade, they had all died.
But the Radium Girls story continued after their court case.
The ruling set the precedent that workers could sue employers
based on damages for on-the-job abuse.
And their story led to further investigation into the adverse effects of radiation.
Today we use radiation in a lot of different ways, from x-rays to treating cancer.
We better understand radiation and its risks, and there are several laws in place to protect
us from the dangers of radiation.
Unfortunately, it took a tragic event for someone to stop and take a look at the possible
dangerous effects of radioactive material on the human body.
Want to know more about medical history?
Well check out this video I did about what it was like to get the very first vaccine.
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