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The Radium Girls and the Generation that brushed its Teeth with Radioactive Toothpaste

The Radium Girls were so contaminated that if you stood over their graves today with a Geiger counter, the radiation levels would still cause the needles to jump more than 80 years later. They were small-town girls from New Jersey who had been hired by a local factory to paint the clock faces of luminous watches, the latest new army gadget used by American soldiers. The women were told that the glow-in-the-dark radioactive paint was harmless, and so they painted 250 dials a day, licking their brushes every few strokes with their lips and tongue to give them a fine point.

But the most baffling part about this story is not the fact that the general public had no idea that radium was so dangerous, but the fact that some people most certainly did! And yet, they sat back and watched as everyone around them was poisoning themselves. The suits and scientists behind the U.S. Radium Corporation were probably the worst. Knowing very well that UnDark’s key ingredient was approximately one million times more active than uranium, they were careful to avoid any exposure to it themselves. While their young female factory workers fresh out of high school were literally encouraged to swallow radium on a daily basis, the owners and chemists were using lead screens, masks and tongs to handle the radium.

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