Archive for the ‘radiation’ Category

No I don’t glow. Why do you ask? Oh.

January 4, 2007

>Most people know that I work in the nuclear industry.  I'm an environmentalist too, and most of the time, I don't see the two as conflicting.  Still, I hear the same gag every time I bring up my work – "Oh it must be nice not to glow in the dark".    Actually, I've always wondered why people use this joke every time they want to express their nervousness about radioactivity.  I've been around plenty of radioactive things, and I've never seen them cause anything to "glow".

Well I just found out why.  The "Radium Girls" were painters employed in the US and Canada in the early part of the century to detail watches and instruments with Radium-based paint.  This started before people had a real sense of the dangers involved  (Radium-based medicines were all the rage), and many women recieved lethal doses when licking their paint brushes to keep them sharp.   (This isn't a completely innocent mistake, there is evidence their employers knew of the risks, but took no precautions).   The article linked above had one interesting qoute:  

"Dust samples collected in the workroom from various locations and from chairs not used by the workers were all luminous in the dark room. Their hair, faces, hands, arms, necks, the dresses, the underclothes, even the corsets of the dial painters were luminous. One of the girls showed luminous spots on her legs and thighs. The back of another was luminous almost to the waist…."

Most of the women died before they won compensation.  In the meantime, their plight took up the front pages, and a sight like dying woment with glowing skin would definately leave an impression on popular culture.  Now I know where the joke comes from, and I kind of wish I didn't.

On a brighter (ugh) note, this has been the week of parties.   It's been fun hanging out with everyone.   I've noticed that one or two drinks wipes out my crushing self-consciousness, but three or four, and the Hammer Fairys start taking away my consonants.