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Old 05-27-2018, 04:19 PM   #91
Catlady
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I was not looking for excuses so much as a way of understanding - but yes, I do think there are legitimate excuses to be found in the earlier part of the situation.

The frustration from my side is that you seem to insist on looking at the situation with modern eyes. Radiation was new then. They simply had no idea. Can you imagine anyone in the 1920s (okay, so before that really, by the 1920s these women were already dying, they just didn't know it then) deciding it might be worth taking a decade of study before they let anyone near this stuff? That's what it would have required. We have trouble doing that now.

This is a cautionary tale, but you have to understand the real situation if you hope to learn the real cautions. The corporate shenanigans where appalling, but there is a lot more to this story than that.
Maybe we have trouble doing that now because some people are still willing to make excuses/find rationales for those prioritize profits over safety. How many times can corporations use ignorance as an excuse? Shouldn't caution and responsibility and vetting come beforehand, not just after the damage is done?

What "real cautions" are you getting from story that you think Moore incompletely addressed?
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Old 05-27-2018, 04:48 PM   #92
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There is a fine line between being safe and getting work done. Working in an industrial capacity as I do, I see it all the time--safety is paramount, until something needs to get done now, and it is down to the individual to make personal risk assessments when performing a task.

This is assuming, however, that the worker is aware of the hazards involved. That is largely the responsibility of the employer to ensure that their people are properly educated.

That is one of the reasons why it is somewhat facetious of the author to categorically state that the hazards of radium were know by 1901--sure some people were aware, and there was one or tow things published in niche journals, but there are few, if any, business professionals who are able to keep abreast of ALL events happening in their industry, even if they do read the pertinent journals.

So, as I was saying, yes, the company is responsible with educating their workers of potential hazards, and the reason they are (today) is because of events such as what is documented in this book. It is not hard science, but I believe it is necessary: it provides context for the moderately-educated masses to watch out for similar abuses that are occurring today.


...did that make any sense?


[edit]Of course, now that we are done with it, The Radium Girls goes on sale for $2.99 at Amazon.com.

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Old 05-27-2018, 09:03 PM   #93
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Yes, it certainly made sense Dngrsone! Back in the days when I worked in Personnel and was in a factory, it was always the experienced workers who suffered bad injuries because of familiarity breeding contempt. They took risks because they thought they knew what they could get away with when dealing with machines.

Dealing with something like radium was a very different situation of course, and you are right: it’s important for people to know that such apparently wonderful things have hidden dangers. Asbestos was a marvellous product too. The hard thing for everyone to know is what the hidden dangers might be, so anything new should probably be handled with extreme caution.
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Old 05-27-2018, 10:02 PM   #94
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Maybe we have trouble doing that now because some people are still willing to make excuses/find rationales for those prioritize profits over safety. How many times can corporations use ignorance as an excuse? Shouldn't caution and responsibility and vetting come beforehand, not just after the damage is done?

What "real cautions" are you getting from story that you think Moore incompletely addressed?
I don't actually disagree with your first paragraph in a general sense. Business owners and the lack of care they sometimes exert over their employees has a long history. It's so commonly accepted that business owners will place profits over safety that it is a favourite device in fiction. As a particular caution for a non-fiction narrative written in the 21st century - about something that happened a century earlier - I might suggest it is redundant.

But I think it is necessary to exercise some sense of proportion. We don't know what was done - by the time Moore's narrative starts the women are being employed. Dngrsone's post covers some aspects of what happens next, and we see that in the way lip-pointing was started. And don't forget this started as part of the effort for WWI. By the time the war was over they already had experience in the activity and, it seems, no cause for concern. By the time the first injury shows up (that we are told about) they have accumulated years of experience, effectively proving to themselves that there was no harm.

Safety and security costs money. The more you want the more it costs. There is no point of perfection, there is just a curve of diminishing returns. We have much higher standards of safety and security - both in law and in personal expectation - now than people had in the past. (We can thank these women for being one of the many steps along the path to our current position.) At some point in this equation it really does - every time - become a matter of prioritizing other factors over safety, because there is always more you could have done. It is always a matter of judgement as to whether you have done enough. (Please note that it's not just business that does this - we all do! How much health insurance is enough? Do you buy the safest car on the market or the one you can more easily afford? etc. etc. etc.)

So the real test for business is not whether they prioritised profits over safety, rather it is whether the business has made a reasonable attempt to keep its employees safe and healthy (that "and healthy" is another thing we can thank these women for). "Reasonable" is different now to what it was a century ago, thanks in part to the events described in this book.


The "real cautions"? One I have already given a few times is that it should be possible to get help without first having to prove fault. Another might be that there is a difference between fault and responsibility. The big, obvious one, is that it can take years for some health impacts to become apparent; this case was just the beginning, eventually we get to see smoking and impacts that may not be realised for multiple decades. Maybe: just because it's law doesn't make it right (the compensation legislation), and doesn't mean it can't be changed. I'm sure I can find more.
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Old 05-28-2018, 03:56 AM   #95
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I belatedly realised there was another caution in this situation that the book does such a good job of obscuring that I forgot about it: Just because only a few participants are showing ill effects does not mean those effects were not caused by the employment.

Hundreds of women worked in this occupation, but the ill effects were apparent in about 1 in 20 (or just over 5%, if I properly interpreted the details that AnotherCat put up - though even those quotes admit to not having reliable measures against the earlier cases*). The initial proportion asking for compensation was much less than that.

This is not intended as a get out of gaol free card for the companies, but it does give a little more realistic context surrounding their reaction. I have not done enough study to know whether these sorts of odds should have been apparent to businesses at the time, but they would certainly have obscured the situation.

Lets double the odds but simplify the situation. If 10 people sit down to a meal and 1 of them gets ill, do you blame the food? Unlikely. If 100 people sit down to a meal and 10 of them get ill, you may get concerned, but you will also be looking to see what else those people did together. If 100 people sit down to a meal, and then 5+ years pass before 10 of them get ill, how quickly do you suppose anyone will decide it was that particular meal that did it?

The threat was real. No one, a century later, is arguing otherwise. But recognising the threat at the time was not as obvious as this book presents it. One of the reasons why this situation is historically so important is because there were enough participants (Wikipedia says 4000) to allow statistical analysis to give meaningful results. It was the sort of experiment that no one could ever have run deliberately, and these women paid the price of our collective ignorance.


* The Wikipedia article on this says "The inventor of radium dial paint, Dr Sabin A. Von Sochocky, died in November 1928, becoming the 16th known victim of poisoning by radium dial paint.", which - in the context of what we read in this book - would seem to suggest the 1/20 value is not unreasonable.

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Old 05-28-2018, 09:16 AM   #96
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The problem with your dinner party analogy is that a dinner party is a one-off. Here we are talking about women who, day after day, month after month, had a particular job in common. In looking at their histories, it wouldn't have been all that difficult to pinpoint that association, even if there was as yet no proof of causality.

I cannot get past the fact that, early on, the men in the labs had protection from the radium, while the women dial painters did not. If there's enough science to tell you that exposure to radium is potentially harmful, it should be enough to tell you that ingesting it is also potentially harmful, regardless of the quantity. But we're just not going to agree.
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Old 05-28-2018, 12:15 PM   #97
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Given that the girls also lived in the same area at the time they were employed, they had a wide range of things in common (or potentially in common). Work was not the only possibility, and even if it was work, it might not have been the radium. This is one of the reasons why establishing the same or similar problems with the women in Ottawa was so important: it provided the crucial evidence that it was actually the radium. Otherwise it might have been the paint on the walls or furniture or something.

(Even when Martland proved there was radium in the bones, he hadn't absolutely proved it was the radium causing the damage - it was strong evidence but it wasn't conclusive because no one at that time really understood the mechanism.)

I guess you're right, agreement doesn't seem likely. I just think it helps to realise how far we have come in the last century, and some of that is thanks to what these women went through.
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Old 05-28-2018, 01:58 PM   #98
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Given that the girls also lived in the same area at the time they were employed, they had a wide range of things in common (or potentially in common). Work was not the only possibility, and even if it was work, it might not have been the radium.
Yes, they would have had a wide range of things in common with one another AND with plenty of other young women who weren't getting mysterious diseases. The disease cluster was workplace related; other young women with whom they shared various characteristics were not becoming sick.

The sufferers were known to be working with a substance believed to be dangerous enough that the scientists in the labs took precautions. It wouldn't have taken a genius to see the link. As I said, causality might not have been established, but there was clearly an association with their work.
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Old 05-28-2018, 06:19 PM   #99
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There was also a case at a third place I seem to remember, which would have given confirmation of the link earlier, but which was either not publicised or maybe the significance was not realised by the people trying to help the women - I can’t remember the details now.
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Old 05-28-2018, 09:10 PM   #100
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Bookpossum, that was Eben Byers, died in 1932. Being rich and famous his death garnered attention that the women had failed to achieve and even managed to stop the sale of the patent medicine called Radithor. I think it came too late to be useful to Grace Fryer etc., and Moore didn't mention it in connection with the Ottawa case. Maybe his fame didn't translate that far? Or maybe most people dismissed it on the grounds that Byers seemed to be a rich nut case - 1400 bottles!

As per that link, this event didn't stop William Bailey trying to sell radioactive products. Bailey strikes me as a man that today would be selling water electrolysis* machines or something equivalent in the pseudo-science wellness product line.


* I actually think the electrolysis machines are almost certainly harmless - and consequently useless - but they come under the same heading: has anyone tested what happens when someone drinks the product of these machines for a decade? If these machines actually did any of the things claimed for them then it would be a very important question.
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Old 05-29-2018, 02:54 AM   #101
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Ah yes, there was that case too. But I was thinking (perhaps remembering wrongly) that it was a worker at a smaller organisation whose situation was perhaps misunderstood, like the early cases in New Jersey with various misdiagnoses.

Sorry to be vague - I had to return the book to the library!
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Old 05-29-2018, 03:52 AM   #102
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There's nothing in the "List of Key Characters" and the front. (When I first saw that list I thought I was reading a play; I really wish Moore had come up with a better descriptive than "characters".) Wikipedia mentions a factory in Canada, but I don't recall Moore making mention of it. I remember there was a girl that quit because she didn't like the taste or feel of the grit, or something like that. I do not remember a third organisation being referenced (which doesn't meant it is not in there somewhere).
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Old 05-29-2018, 12:20 PM   #103
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It seems to me that by focusing on the length of time it took for symptoms to manifest and the lack of concrete knowledge about the effects of working with and ingesting radium, one is not giving enough weight to willful ignorance, the unwillingness to examine the situation in light of new evidence, the stonewalling and the outright lies, especially in a situation of human life v. corporate good.

I think Moore did a good job overall by differentiating between what happened in New Jersey when ignorance and war exigencies were more mitigating factors and what happened in Ottawa, where surely the company's physical examinations of the girls spoke to gathering supporting evidence against future claims (since they focused on the healthy girls)? There was far too much tacit acknowledgment in Ottawa of the deleterious effects of lip pointing for me to accept the juridical, "They didn't know." But I agree we're talking in circles now.

But I'd like to raise a tangential question. Do people think "popular" history as this obviously is, is valuable? Or are there inherent flaws which invalidate it? I myself see no reason why a history shouldn't focus on the human aspect of a story and after that, it's an issue of execution and balance. But that's no different from any history, where the very concept of "revisionism" attests to changes in attitude and interpretations - and sometimes I think out of sheer contrarianism.

It's a pity that Moore resorted to fictionalizations which undermined the factual aspects of her narrative, especially since she had both the resources and the ability to make them unnecessary. But that said, is there a compelling reason why a particular narrative shouldn't focus on the personal, as opposed to the corporate or legal?

As a practical matter, as has been suggested, I think there's a lot of value in popular history as an introduction, as a gateway, as something to pique one's interest. I like academic history myself, but I'm not necessarily going to want to dive into one as my introduction to a subject. And sometimes, the "popular" version is enough. One can't be an expert on everything.
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Old 05-29-2018, 12:24 PM   #104
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There was also a case at a third place I seem to remember, which would have given confirmation of the link earlier, but which was either not publicised or maybe the significance was not realised by the people trying to help the women - I can’t remember the details now.
Are you thinking of the Waterbury Clock Company, where it seems there were at least a couple of likely cases? I can't remember clearly now, but I think there were differences in labor law in Connecticut which limited looking for any causal link.
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Old 05-29-2018, 12:33 PM   #105
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I have only begun the book and am listening to the Audible version narrated by Kate Moore. So far she is excellent.
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