How were they able to get away with such a thing?
|Dial painters at Luminous Processes - 1939
Another factor was the problem with diagnosing radium poisoning. Dozens of deaths were attributed to other diseases and conditions for years before the truth was accepted. Radium was killing people.
One of the populations hardest hit was young, working-class women who worked as dial painters, using radium infused paint to make clock faces and other instrument dials glow in the dark. They would point the tips of their paintbrushes with their lips to complete the fine work, and, all the while, they were introducing fatal poison to their systems.
Girls in their teens and twenties working in dial painting studios started suffering from fatigue, headaches, digestive issues, and pain in their joints, but one of the worst symptoms of radium poisoning affected their mouths and jaws. They noticed loose teeth that eventually fell out, leaving behind sores that wouldn't heal. Several women eventually died from so much of their mouths rotting away that they bled to death.
|Bedside hearing of Catherine Donohue - 1938
This wide variety of symptoms and illnesses provided companies utilizing radium to argue that there was no single illness - no such thing as radium poisoning. Workers' Compensation laws were in early stages in the states where they existed at all, so most women and their families struggled with medical bills and loss of income as well as the illness itself.
The first test for diagnosing radium poisoning was developed after a male employee of US Radium Corp died. No one had listened to the female dial painters, but the death of a male scientist was more difficult to ignore. During the autopsy, the victim's bones were reduced to ashes so that they could be tested with an electrometer, and radium poisoning was officially diagnosed for the first time.
This didn't help those who were sick, since their bones couldn't be removed and tested, so work began in earnest to develop additional tests. In 1925, decades after the discovery of radium, scientists and doctors finally determined ways to measure radioactivity in bones and breath. The dial painters who were tested had results that indicated radium deposits within their bodies at extraordinarily high levels.
|Ottawa, IL EPA Superfund Site
Environmental Protection Agency cleanup sites caused by radium deposits continue to cause health problems and cost taxpayers millions to this day.