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Thursday, June 24, 2021

Review: Radium Girls

 Radium Girls is the story of the dial painters for the Radium Corporation, how it recruited women to pain watch dials and other instruments with luminous paint, but neglected to provide a safe working environment despite the well known cases of cancer in various researchers since as early as 1903. It was amazing to me that even though Marie Curie died of cancer, even by 1923, there was no medical literature connecting the use of radioactive materials with health issues.

What made the Radium Corporation's behavior particularly egregious was that even after women started dying in gruesome ways (the book is unflinching in discussing the various deaths from the disease), the company still did not change its workstations or training for its women, and its lawyers and executives continually assured the workers that radium was safe, while fighting in court with all the modern tactics we've come to associate with tobacco companies and the oil industry.

All this took place before the formation of OSHA, and you would think that the government was moved to act (almost all the victims were white women), but of course, this happened during a Republican administration, and the laws actually had to be changed before the women could start winning in court (the statute of limitations was involved). In one case, a lawyer started winning so many cases against the Radium Corporation that the company during its settlement with the women specifically required him to stay away from all future cases against it!

The book is long, and the audio book version of the story is kinda long winded, which I solved by listening to it at 1.4X speed. Even then, it took 2 renewals from the library to get through it. Still, it's well worth reading. Recommended.

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