More than hundred years passed since Marie and Pierre Curie won the Nobel Prize for discovering radioactive elements polonium and radium. The scientific world was excited with the newly discovered force of nature, but they soon realized that that the discovery was not the best for human race. They soon learned that the great discovery was a threat to health. Unfortunately, long time went by until their concerns were taken seriously.
Marie Curie denied that radiation was bad for health even though everyone around her, who was exposed to radiation, was dyeing from leukemia. “She never fully acknowledged that her work had ruined her health” Marie curie herself was chronically ill and nearly blind from all the exposure to radioactive materials. But she never admitted that that her work led to her poor health. Radioactivity she worked on eventually led her into an early grave at the age of 67.
Marie Curie was so fixed on her research that there is no reason to think that she would have stopped her research if she had known the health risks associated with her work. Her daughter and son-in-law, also Nobel Prize winners, continued her experiments with radioactivity and were eventually killed by the diseases caused by radiation.
In 1898 Marie and Pierre Curie began to experiment with radiation. Initially they started by studying emissions from various minerals which led them to win a Nobel Prize in 1903 that they shared and another one to Marie alone in 1911. “Their first accomplishment was to show that radioactivity was a property of atoms themselves.” For scientists it was the most important of Curies discoveries, because it helped other scientists to understand the atomic structure of matter. “The second, more famous discovery, was the discovery of polonium and radium.” The most radioactive element they experimented with was radium, a substance that does not exists free in nature. To study it the Curies spent most of their time covered from head to toe in radioactive swamp exhalations in order to get microscopic amounts of radium. Marie Curie wanted to purify it so it could be used as early radiation treatment for tumors and other medical uses.
Radium’s “radioactivity is due to the large size of the atom, which makes the nucleus unstable and prone to decay, usually to radon and then lead, by emitting particles and energy as it seeks a more stable configuration.”
Radium has a bluish glow that caught people’s attention and the companies tried to exploit this new invention. Radium was used in a lot of things including fake cure all medicines that did the opposite – they killed. Large companies opened up factories to produce wristwatches with glow in the dark dials that became very fashionable. The glowing dials were hand painted by “Radium Girls”, some as young as 15, who worked in “studios” where they mixed their own paint from a powdered base. Soon after a lot of these girls became very sick and some of them died from so much exposure to the radioactive materials. The women used to use these glowing radioactive materials as make up, nail polish, and clothes accessories. They also used to put the brushes, they used for painting the watch dials, into their mouths to make the tip of the brush into a fine tip. They were so covered with radioactive dust; they glowed in the dark.
People started to suspect that radium was harmful to health so when working with radium they started wearing protective clothing. “Radium Girls” started getting sick, they were suffering from fatigue, anemia, and were having trouble with their teeth. These dial painters were dyeing from a condition that came to be known as “radium jaw”. Their jawbones were so diseased that pieces of them actually came out when dentists tried to take out the bad teeth. The places where bad teeth were taken out never healed and started getting infected. Some women were diagnosed with bone cancer. The women’s bodies were actually radioactive because their bones had absorbed radium.
Radium is very dangerous because it forms medical bonds in the same way as calcium, so body is fooled by it by thinking that it is calcium and it is absorbed by the bones. This gives radium the ability to affect cells with out any obstacles, which