Database of radiological incidents and related events--Johnston's Archive

Radium dial painters, 1920-1926

compiled by Wm. Robert Johnston
last modified 10 June 2004

Date: 1920-1926

Location: USA and other countries

Type of event: accumulated radiological burden due to occupational exposure


Beginning around 1920, radium-containing paint was used to paint luminescent numbers on watch dials in various locations. This painting was done by hand, with the common practice of using the lips to produce a point on the tip of the brush. Many workers accumulated significant burdens of radium-226 through ingestion and absorption into the bones. Some effects were localized to the jawbone or mouth. From 1923 the link between radium dial painting and injuries became recognized, and the practice of radium dial painting discontinued around 1926. In 1927 a lawsuit against one company, U.S. Radium, was filed by several former radium dial painters; the case was settled out of court in 1928. One study of 1,346 individuals reported 44 individuals with exposures exceeding 10000 rem to the skeleton.

Consequences: 9+ fatalities, 70+ injuries (note: actual casualties exceed these cases referenced in the sources below).


© 2004 by Wm. Robert Johnston.
Last modified 10 June 2004.
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