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Old 05-18-2018, 09:30 PM   #36
AnotherCat
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Bookpossum View Post
Yes, agreed in the early days. But by the 1920s and 1930s people were realising the dangers of radium. They just weren't admitting them, at least in the case of the women written about in The Radium Girls.

And I do find it extraordinary that she would "never really admit the health risks of radiation exposure." Okay, that was from Wikipedia, but it had good footnotes.

Good to see you, AnotherCat. I hope you will read the book and join in the discussion about it.
Gidday Bookpossum.

I have a copy of Kate Moore's Radium Girls (there is an earlier book with the same title which I will mention) which I had a scan through sometime after I got it a year or so ago. But I did not read it as it was a narrative, not in itself a bad thing but it contained obvious fictional embellishments (which others have alluded to) in order to popularize it. The moment such is so its contents for me become unreliable and can cause wonder as to what the author's motives were in adding them (she is a prolific populist writer).

I won't be reading it because for me it was not a reliable read and because I have long had a copy of Claudia Clark's reliable Radium Girls written in the late 1990's (but still available). It is written by an academic (sprung out of Clark's earlier doctoral thesis) and is not embellished to be a popular read. It is a long time since I last read it but because of rekindled interest I will do so again.

If Wikipedia claims Curie would "never really admit the health risks of radiation exposure." without softening that with other information then that is stretching the bow to infer she did not recognize even the potential (but, in fact, there is a contradiction in Wikipedia, see below). As early as 1920 when she was first suffering from cataracts and tinnitus she wrote in a letter to her sister Bronya "Perhaps radium has something to do with these troubles, but it cannot be confirmed with certainty" - we now know that these illnesses can be caused by radiation (in the case of cataracts by non ionizing radiation too, I am sure many Australians are with familiar with the now known relationship between them and UV exposure from sunlight). But that does not mean that hers were, just that with current knowledge we can say it was likely so.

Other evidence that Curie recognized that the radiation caused harm and did not deny that is that it was known for sure (by easy experiment) that radiation from radium, for example, caused skin burns and was used (as were x-rays, an indirect ionizing radiation) for removal of skin lesions including cancerous ones. As far as I am aware she actually promoted that use so was well aware of and recognized that radiation caused biological damage.

In Susan Quinn's biography Marie Curie: A Life there is a very good section on Curie's recognition of the dangers of radiation. It is well worth a read if one has access to it, but the guts of it is that she recognized the risks and stated so, but at times she was reticent to state them. The section describes why that was so. I am not sure if it is that biography or another that I recall claimed that even at the Radiation Institute where she worked up until her death in 1934 (I think she was there 'til almost the end) there was little understanding of the health risks from radiation. A possible correlation was recognized (there had even been several deaths) but no dependence.

The first sentence of the same Wikipedia paragraph that ends with Curie never really acknowledged the health risks of radiation exposure, Wikipedia states The damaging effects of ionising radiation were not known at the time of her work, which had been carried out without the safety measures later developed. So there is a contradiction there, if one was to accept Wikipedia then there is no way she could have acknowledged something Wikepedia says was not known at the time, so for one claim or the other they are wrong.

It also comes to mind that in the early decades of the last century there was a prevalence of illnesses and deaths to confound the identification of links between disease and radiation. For example, TB (consumption) was very common with a high mortality rate and causes lesions on internal organs (Curie suffered such lesions, but these were common among even those who never knew they had ever had TB - my father had the same, just picked up in an examination for an unrelated illness, it was assumed he had TB during the war years 15-20 years before but never knew it), anemia was common (especially among women) and Curie died from aplastic anemia which we now know may be caused by exposure to radiation.

I hope that adds something useful, even though I have only scanned the topic book and that not recently.

John

Last edited by AnotherCat; 05-18-2018 at 09:41 PM. Reason: Spellin'
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