Radium – Boon or Menace?

Originally printed in the June 1932 issue of Everyday Science and Mechanics, this article now reprinted on Modern Mechanix asks the important question “Radium – Boon or Menace?”

It seems like a simple question, but back then, most people knew so little about radiation.

RECENTLY the press reported the case of a wealthy man who died from the direct use of radium, in a way that made it necessary for the authorities to step in and investigate the so-called “radium cures”. The victim, Eben M. Byers, an iron manufacturer, died in a New York hospital from the effects of radium absorbed by drinking “radithor”, a radioactive water manufactured by the Bailey Radium Laboratories, East Orange, New Jersey. In this case, the radium-charged water was put up in small bottles; and it has been ascertained that Mr. Byers drank a number of bottles a day for a long time. Eventually, the active radium settled in his bones, where it set up necrosis (death of the tissues) and, in due time, the patient died; there being no known antidote once radium has been absorbed by the bones. Similar cases were reported several years ago, of a number of workers poisoned by radium-impregnated paint in a factory where luminous watch dials were made. In this case the workers had a habit of moistening the fine paint brushes with their tongues, thus carrying into the system active radium; and practically all of the workers who had thus absorbed radium died in a similar manner, that is by disintegration of the bones.

There has been so much erroneous and misleading infor-mation printed in the newspapers, and elsewhere, about radium that it becomes necessary to enlighten the public at large with the true facts of radium. This article is intended to do so, by giving actual scientific information on the subject as it is know today.

Since a popular article should be understood by everybody, I have tried to keep out of this all technicalities that would confuse the layman, and give only such information as anyone can readily understand.

The author of this article then goes on to explain a lot of the science behind radiation in very clear, non-technical terms.  The discussion then turns to the uses of Radium and other radiation.

Now, coming to things nearer home, let us discuss the effects of radium on the human body. It was found early by physicists, working in conjunction with doctors, that X-rays could be used beneficially in certain types of cancer. Cancer is a disease wherein body cells which are normally controlled by some internal secretion, become out of control, and grow so rapidly that they draw upon the rest of the body until sooner or later, unless the growth is checked, the patient dies. There are a number of different types of cancer; but even today, medical science knows very little about it and is still largely in the dark as to its cause and as to its treatment.

One thing is recognized and that is: Certain types of cancer yield to X-rasys and to the Gamma rays of radium, which are one and the same thing. If discovered in time, such cancerous tissue, when radiated properly with powerful X-rays or Radium Gamma rays, will actually be destroyed and the mischief stopped. On other types of cancer the Radium rays and X-rays have no effect whatsoever.

Read the whole article and get educated.  It is lengthy, but I think it’s one of the better works I’ve ever linked to, and one of the best reprints I’ve seen on Modern Mechanix.

[tags]Modern Mechanix, Radium, Radiation[/tags]