Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Interesting Tidbits in the History of Radiation Research: Ingesting Radium for Medicinal Purposes

I'm researching the history of radiation discoveries.

Fascinating stuff.

One interesting tidbit concerns radium's "medical" uses.

Marie Curie extracted radium from pitchblende and analyzed the "rays" it produced with her chemist husband.

Rutherford analyzed the rays and differentiated beta from alpha particles. His findings were published here: E. Rutherford (1899). "Uranium radiation and the electrical conduction produced by it". Philosophical Magazine 47 (284): 109–163.

Radium oxidizes in air, but before it does it possesses a shiny, luminescent glow. After oxidizing it turns black (maybe that is the black dust being found all over Japan since radium is part of uranium's decay chain)

At any rate, in the 1920s, many in the medical community considered radium as a new form of medicine. Its shiny appearance may have enhanced its appeal.

I came across this article in The New York Times archives.

 NEW RADIUM FIELD TO BE BOON TO SICK: FOUND IN TURKESTAN American Philanthropists Plan Distribution at Cost ARRANGE FOR MEDICINAL USE Latest Deposit Called Largest and Richest in the World. New York Times [New York, N.Y] 16 Sep 1923: XX2.

The article discusses an American philanthropists' efforts to distribute radium for medical purposes.

The article notes that 1 gram of radium emits 143,000,000,000,000 alpha particles and 71,000,000,000,000 beta particles a second.

When used for medical purposes, the radium would be [excerpted from article] "brought into proximity to the diseased part [of the body] in the usual medical treatment with special tubes."

MAJIA HERE: Imagine inserting with tubes a substance so radioactive that it disintegrates in billions of becquerels per second!

It took the death of many people before recognition dawned that radium is not medicinal.

Especially noteworthy in the sordid history of radium is the story of the "radium girl" factory workers who painted clock faces with radium. They shaped their paint brushes with their mouths thereby ingesting radium paint.
Read about them here: http://www.radford.edu/~wkovarik/envhist/radium.html#lawsuit


  1. You might find this intersting too. More recent history.

    Scroll down to "Abnormal Occurances for 2010"
    "For all licensees" It lists medical mistakes or problems with radiation. A pregnant woman injected with iodine for medical test when she didn't know she was pregnant, baby born without a thyroid. Radiation "seeds" insert outside the prostate when they should have been inserted inside the prostate. There is a report like this for every year.

  2. One more thing.
    My mother is a twin. She had a bad birth mark on her back from being against her twin when developing. The doctors burned the birth mark off with radium when she was a kid and left a horrible scar. It looks like a piece of salami, about that size, inserted under the skin and is very sensitive to the touch. She is in her 70's and recently a dermatologist took an interst in it and would like a biopsy.


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