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and life along the winding road

Friday, February 9, 2018

The Radium Girls by Kate Moore

Kate Moore has obviously spent a great deal of time researching the history of girls who used luminescent paint and her book The Radium Girls follows the story of several of the girls whose bodies were sadly destroyed by the radioactive component in the paint. While it is a dark story, it nevertheless shows the struggle they had against wealthy companies and despite earning a high salary, they were soon unable to work and any savings were used up by trying to find medical treatment in vain to alleviate their pain. (One girl was dismissed because her deteriorating bones caused her to limp and they thought it was discouraging for other girls employed there!)

The girls who painted luminescent numbers on clock dials and aircraft instrument panels during the early 1920s were called the shining women. It wasn't only the dials that shone in the night, the girls were speckled with radium powder and they loved how they lit up at night and when they went to dances. A new craze began after Marie Curie  discovered radium and it was used to destroy cancerous tumors/tissue, radioactive dressings and pills were sold to treat hay fever, gout, and constipation and radium health clinics and spas popped up all over America. Wealthy customers drank water from a radium lined jar as a tonic and it was dubbed liquid sunshine. Dr. Sabin Von Sochocky  had noted the luminescence of the radium and concocted a paint to use on clock and watch dials (the lighted dials helped pilots during WWI). His idea was originally to make money to fund his medical research and the lab workers and chemists who extracted the radium  and worked with it wore protective lead-lined aprons and other protective equipment. Unfortunately, despite warnings from Thomas Edison and Pierre Curie of dire results in the handling of radium, the teenage girl painters were offered no protection. They were told the radium in the paint was too minimal to hurt them. The company even sold the sand like residue to schools and playgrounds to use for children to play with touting it as hygienic for the children. The girls not only were speckled with the radium dust but to be more efficient painters they "pointed" the bristles of the brush with their mouth and lips in order to clump together any wayward bristles. Using water was considered a waste by the company as the precious paint was left behind in the water.
What resulted were teeth falling out, necrosis of the jaw bone and destruction of the bones (bone marrow was over stimulated and eventually destroyed red blood cells.)
But the company was making far too much money to worry about the health of their workers and denied any fault while their workers were dying - most of them in their early twenties.

It would be a good read for a book club.

1 comment:

Pat Wahler said...

Wow, that sounds like a true horror story and another indictment against the greed of companies who only care about money.

www.patwahler.com