Bone Contamination

When Marie and Pierre Curie and Henri Becquerel received their 1903 Nobel Prize for the discovery of radioactivity (see insight 2.1, p. 58), radiation captured the public's imagination. Not for several decades did anyone realize its dangers. For example, watch factories employed women to paint glow-in-the-dark numbers on watch and clock dials with radium paint. The women moistened their paint brushes with their tongues to keep them finely pointed and ingested radium in the process. The radium accumulated in their bones and caused many of the women to develop a form of bone cancer called osteosarcoma.

Even more horrific, in the wisdom of our hindsight, was a deadly health fad in which people drank "tonics" made of radium-enriched water. One famous enthusiast was the millionaire playboy and championship golfer Eben Byers (1880-1932), who drank several bottles of radium tonic each day and praised its virtues as a wonder drug and aphrodisiac. Like the factory women, Byers contracted osteosarcoma. By the time of his death, holes had formed in his skull and doctors had removed his entire upper jaw and most of his mandible in an effort to halt the spreading cancer. Byer's bones and teeth were so radioactive they could expose photographic film in the dark. Brain damage left him unable to speak, but he remained mentally alert to the bitter end. His tragic decline and death shocked the world and put an end to the radium tonic fad.

Saladin: Anatomy & I 7. Bone Tissue I Text I I © The McGraw-Hill

Physiology: The Unity of Companies, 2003 Form and Function, Third Edition

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