RADIUM GIRLS

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The Radium Girls were female factory workers who contracted radiation poisoning from painting watch dials with self-luminous paint. Painting was done by women at three different sites in the United States, and the term now applies to the women working at the facilities. The first, United States Radium factory in Orange, New Jersey, beginning around 1917, at Ottawa, Illinois, beginning in the early 1920s, and a third facility in Waterbury, Connecticut.

The women in each facility had been told the paint was harmless, and subsequently ingested deadly amounts of radium after being instructed to "point" their brushes on their lips in order to give them a fine point; some also painted their fingernails, face and teeth with the glowing substance. The women were instructed to point their brushes because using rags, or a water rinse, caused them to waste too much time and waste too much of the material made from powdered radium, gum arabic and water.

Five of the women in New Jersey challenged their employer in a case over the right of individual workers who contract occupational diseases to sue their employers under New Jersey's occupational injuries law, which at the time had a two-year statute of limitations, but settled out of court. Five women in Illinois who were employees of the Radiant Dial Company (which was unaffiliated with the United States Radium Corporation) sued their employer under Illinois law, winning damages in 1938.

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