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Hello, fellow Steampunkers! I'm writing here to share with all of you a rather unnerving experience I've recently had concerning watch parts I'd purchased to use in my jewelry and other crafts.

I suspected that some of the watch faces may have had radium on them, so I called my local university's Radiation Safety Officer, and he came to my house with a Geiger-Müller meter. It turned out that my suspicions were well-grounded:

I've got the full report here on my blog if anyone's interested.

Please feel free to cross-post my blog post to other forums and boards, and share this information with anyone you know who is a Steampunk crafter or who makes jewelry out of watch and clock parts. If you have questions about your own materials, do what I did: call your local public university and ask to speak to their Radiation Safety Officer. Alternately, call your state's Department of Environmental Quality: the Michigan DEQ rep was also willing to come out, free of charge, and inspect and remove any hot material -- the WMU Safety Officer just responded first*. Radium paint isn't anything to be terribly frightened of, but as crafters, we need to be well aware of the risks inherent in our medium, especially if we're intending to sell our pieces to the public.


( 13 comments — Leave a comment )
Jan. 9th, 2009 03:40 am (UTC)
Thanks for the heads up. I remember reading that when radium was first discovered people were so entranced by the glow that they would paint everything with the stuff. Some women would even paint their nails with radium! I am sure there a ton of early 20th century pieces still out there illuminating away.
Jan. 9th, 2009 03:47 am (UTC)
i heard that some makers of the watches were poisoned from painting the radium onto the hands when they would lick the bristles of the brushes to wet them before dipping into the radium.
Jan. 9th, 2009 03:54 am (UTC)
Yes, and their story is told in the book Radium Girls. Good memory!
Jan. 9th, 2009 04:23 am (UTC)
What? Radiation bad?

All of the ads in the newspaper only seem to focus on its remarkable healing effect, and on any number of humors I might add.

It is also said to be the best thing for gout since electricity, not to mention its handiness is gauging shoe size.

Next you'll be saying lead is bad for the complexion :/
Jan. 9th, 2009 05:31 am (UTC)
woah! that geiger counter seems to be going a little bit crazy near those parts... yikes.
Jan. 9th, 2009 07:00 am (UTC)
Anything of a certain age that glows in the dark may have radium. I inherited an old compass that has radium spots on the dial.
Jan. 9th, 2009 01:11 pm (UTC)
Radium is an alpha emitter, so a bit of radium paint ought to be mostly OK in a watch dial as the glass and metal case would block it completely. Though there would be a trace amount of radon gas coming out of the watch.

Making a radium watch dial into jewelrey, which might worn be next to the skin is going to be a bad idea. Injesting any alpha emitter is seriously bad news, radium especially so as it lodges in the bones because the body confuses it with calcium - this is what happened to the radium girls.

This from a half-remembered ratiation safety course I did ages ago during my physics degree. If you've got any doubts at all, contact a Radiation Safety Officer as the OP says.
Jan. 9th, 2009 04:04 pm (UTC)
Whilst I think the risks are exaggerated, it's also worth noting that it's not a good idea to sand or saw bakelite, as some types used asbestos as the filler material, and asbestos also turns up in some old wiring and inside radios in card form so don't crumble it up or saw it! My Mum adds (tersely) that all her family have worked with small amounts of it for decades (in radios, vintage car and motorbike engines) and are still alive - the distant relative who died was a boiler safety inspector so inhaled a lot of dust for years.
They also played with mercury!
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Jan. 9th, 2009 08:32 pm (UTC)
Old science teacher would like to show people the mole under his radium watch. He died of cancer that summer.
Jan. 10th, 2009 09:21 am (UTC)
I noticed in your blog post that you were offering returns/testing on anything bought from you...but I can't find your Etsy/EBay/anything username. Would you mind posting it? It's hard to tell whether I have bought anything by you without having a username for reference.
Jan. 10th, 2009 05:46 pm (UTC)
I didn't have an etsy shop. I'm primarily a Comic Book creator, and I made some jewelry to sell at conventions to help cover travel expenses. I've sold probably only about fifty pieces over a three year span. Other than orders that were placed in person and fulfilled with a paypal transaction, I've also not sold anything online to the best of my knowledge.

And honestly, given what the Radiation Safety Officer told me, pretty much all my pieces are reasonably safe to wear on an occasional basis, provided you're not eating them or allowing your kids or dog to chew on them. I'm offering the buyback/inspection as a service to my buyers, because I care about my customers' peace of mind as much as I do my work.

Thanks for raising that point, though. I probably should've clarified that someplace in the blogpost.
( 13 comments — Leave a comment )

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