Liquid SunshineBeneficial Fad or Human Carcinogen

Running Head: RADIUM AS THERAPEUTIC AGENT Radiums Reign as Therapeutic Agent: Its Rise and Fall in the Early 19th Century Pierre and Marie Curie discovered radium in 1898 and conducted many studies on this luminescent metal. During their research, they reported that radium might cure some forms of cancer and lesions. Many doctors soon began using radiation from radium in their treatments. Internal medicines from radium such as liquid sunshine or radon laced water and radium based tonic Radithor became immensely popular for treating a variety of illnesses. The 1927 "Radium Girls" case or the sufferings of radium dial painters made the public aware of potential ill effects of radium. Investigations soon found the ill effects of long-term exposure to radium. The use of radium as therapeutic agent was discontinued, but the victims of this metal died painful deaths.
In 1900s, radium became a treatment option for many illnesses of the day. However, its popularity as a promoter of health soon declined. This paper aims at recounting the rise and fall of radium as a therapeutic agent.
About Radium
Radium (atomic number 88) is a radioactive alkaline earth metal, belonging to the same group as calcium and barium (Radium, 2009). Its radioactive nature makes radium a luminescent metal that glows in the dark. Radium is a decay product of radioactive uranium 238. Nobel laureates Pierre and Marie Curie discovered this metal in 1898. Marie Curie received her second Nobel Price for Chemistry in 1911 for her work on radium and polonium (Pasachoff, 1996).
Radium Treatments
Pierre Curie was the first scientist to advocate the medical uses of radium. Pierre exposed his arm to radium for many hours, which caused a burn that took many months to heal. He concluded that diseased cells may be destroyed by exposure to radioactivity and that radium could be a potential cure for cancer and skin diseases (Clark, 1997. Pasachoff, 1996). The results of Curies trailblazing research on effects of radium catapulted this element to instant fame. Radiation therapy with radium became a standard treatment for cancer, benign tumors, warts, and even facial hair (Clark, 1997). By early 1900s, radium laced water was advertised as a therapeutic agent for a host of other problems (Clark, 1997). This radium water was called liquid sunshine as it was considered a magic elixir for better health and longer life (Rosch, 2004). As radium was expensive, radon, a product of radium decay, was used often to manufacture radium water (Clark, 1997). Radium water was prescribed as germicidal, antibacterial, and antifungal to treat diseases such as diphtheria, malaria, typhoid, and liver diseases (Clark, 1997). Many products including toothpastes, hair tonics, bath salts, lotions, candies, bread, cigarette holders, heating pads, cigarette holders, and condoms claimed to contain radium (Rosch, 2004). In 1925, William J. A. Bailey, a con artist and quack, began producing Radithor, a radium based tonic that he advertised as the elixir of youth and cure for many problems such as impotence, obesity, and even depression (Clark, 1997). Many journals written by eminent doctors of the day recommended these medicines.
Radium Girls
The public had no inkling of possible negative effects of radium until the "Radium Girls" plight came to light. During World War I, US Radium began manufacturing watches with luminous dials. To achieve this luminescence, girls painted the dials with radium laced paint (Clark, 1997). When their paintbrushes went out-of-shape, these girls used their mouths to point the brushes. Beginning in 1920, many of these girls and former painters started developing many illnesses, crippling and fatal (Clark, 1997). A case filed by dial painters against US Radium garnered a lot of press attention, but the industry got away with paying paltry sums to the victims, who died horrific deaths in a short while (Clark, 1997).
Radium Toxicity
As reports of radium toxicity began to increase, many in the medical profession began questioning the use of radium as a therapeutic agent. Beginning in 1926, government agencies including the US Department of Agricultures Bureau of Chemistry reported that 95% of radium tonics had no radium, while the remaining 5% were radioactive and dangerous. Marie Curie herself became a victim of her discovery, losing over 20 pounds during the course of her research, experiencing permanent damage to fingertips, and finally dying of aplastic anemia in 1934 (Pasachoff, 1996).
Radium, like calcium, is deposited in the bones during daily long-term exposure. Radiation from this radium can damage bone marrow causing anemia, weaken bones, cause infections in bone tissue (especially in the jaw), and even cause cancer (Clark, 1997). Radon, the decay product of radium, can affect sinuses and mastoids, increasing the risk of cancer (Clark, 1997).
Radium may have once gained popularity as a health fad and a magical elixir, but the glow was short-lived. The case of "Radium Girls", new research, and even Marie Curies untimely demise proved without doubt that constant long-term exposure to radium is dangerous. Many users of this metal and liquid sunshine died horrific deaths.
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Radium. (2009). In The Columbia Encyclopedia (6th ed.). New York: Columbia University Press. Retrieved December 3, 2009, from Questia database:
Pasachoff, N. (1996). Marie Curie and the Science of Radioactivity. New York: Oxford University Press. Retrieved December 3, 2009, from Questia database:
Rosch, P.J. (2004). The Remarkable Radium "Liquid Sunshine" Fad and its Deadly Consequences. Health and Stress, August. Retrieved December 3, 2009, from