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WWI casualties without leaving Jersey

 
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BerichtGeplaatst: 20 Dec 2006 20:55    Onderwerp: WWI casualties without leaving Jersey Reageer met quote

WWI casualties without leaving Jersey
At plant in Orange, workers unknowingly gave their lives in war effort
Thursday, December 14, 2006
BY GABRIEL H. GLUCK
Star-Ledger Staff

They licked the tips of their paint brushes, not realizing the painful, lethal furies they would unleash.

The doughboys holed up in the trenches in France needed watches they could read in the dark and this glowing radium mixture made it possible.
But painting those thin lines on watch faces required a fine tip on one's brush and the young women working at the U.S. Radium Corp. plant in Orange never had a second thought when they used their lips to bring the brush's fibers to a point, as if they were painting watercolors.

But what researchers would ultimately discover is that the ra dium was often fatal, causing bone cancers in the mouth and jaw, along with other areas of the body.

Dr. William Sharpe, a retired pathologist and professor at UMDNJ, worked for years analyzing the deaths of the workers at the plant. He spoke recently to the members of the Summit Old Guard, who meet regularly at the New Providence Municipal Center.

The World War I era marked the entry of large numbers of women into the job market.

"A career girl in 1900 had about as many career options as a woman did in (the year) 900 -- she could become a nun, a housewife or a whore," Sharpe said.

So when the radium plant opened its doors to women, they came in droves. And because they were paid on the basis of the number of watches they painted, the in centive to improve their earnings only increased their exposure to the radium.

They started painting the ra dium dials in 1917 and within three years, more than a dozen women died, Sharpe said.

By the 1920s, many of the dial painters were dying prematurely, while others were suffering from a variety of acute and chronic diseases. The cancers, which often settled in the upper and lower jaw, would disfigure the face.

The chief chemist at the plant died from aplastic anemia, which occurs when the bone marrow stops producing new blood cells.

While the then-Essex County medical examiner ultimately found that "radium poisoning" was the cause, it was a Harvard University medical team that helped establish the overwhelming evidence of the causal relationship between the ra dium and the diseases that re sulted.

While there is no final count of how many of the dial painters suc cumbed to radium poisoning, several hundred cases were documented.

Sharpe, 79, entered the arena years later, studying victims under a federal grant that was looking to determine whether there was a "safe level of exposure" to radium. What the South Orange physician found was that there was no safe level and also no way to predict the consequences of exposure.

After radium is ingested, it passes through the body in a totally random fashion, he said, comparing it to making popcorn -- there is no way to predict the order in which the kernels will pop.

"Radium is a bone seeker, like calcium," he said. When radium breaks down, it forms three entities: radon, a radioactive gas; he lium nuclei; and the gamma radia tion given off by the decay of the radioactive isotope.

Wherever the radium lodged, the bone was destroyed. Sharpe examined 42 long-term cases, of which more than half the victims had malignancies or blood disorders.

"Many of them were deaf," he said, recalling how the radium could settle into the nearby bones after ingestion.

If there was any good news, there seemed to be no consequence to the children and grandchildren of these workers, although the sample was too small to reach any definitive conclusion, he said.

Recalling his early work on AIDS victims, Sharpe said he could imagine how confounded the doctors were in the 1920s.

"We did not know what we were dealing with," he said, recalling the autopsies of AIDS victims and the inability to explain why victims had no bone marrow or lymph nodes. For the physicians examining the victims of radium poisoning, the necrotic bone in their bodies would look "moth eaten," Sharpe said.

The story created such a stir in its day that the playwright Ben Hecht based his work, "Hazel Flagg," on the fate that befell the workers at the radium plant, along with the movie, "Nothing Sacred," starring Frederic March, Sharpe said.

While there were some lawsuits -- in one case five young women each received $10,000 -- such settlements were the exception.

"Most of the girls got nothing," Sharpe said.

Gabriel H. Gluck is a reporter in the Union County bureau. He may be reached at (908) 302-1506 or ggluck@starledger.com.


http://www.nj.com/news/ledger/union/index.ssf?/base/news-2/116607464516870.xml&coll=1&thispage=2
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marcston



Geregistreerd op: 18-3-2006
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Woonplaats: Eindhoven

BerichtGeplaatst: 20 Dec 2006 21:47    Onderwerp: Reageer met quote

Ik heb inderdaad wel eens gelezen dat Radium in WO 1 en vooral in de jaren 20 een wondermiddel was in Tandpasta en anderen. Zo'n beetje de asbest (dat andere wonder middel van na WO 2) van die tijd.

Blijft eigenaardig, maar wel te begrijpen gezien de tijd en de kennis van radioactiviteit toen.

Regards,
Marc

Doet me denken aan Radioactive man van de simpsons:)
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