Thursday, 14 April 2016 14:15

Radium Girls: Abused innocence

Written by  Urs Fitze

Thousands of so called "Radium Girls" used radioactive materials to make watch numbers luminous. Many of them paid with their health.



Radium Girls was the name given to the women who worked in watch factories in the East Coast around 1917, applying radioactive luminous paint called Undark so the watch numbers and hands would glow in the dark. Even though the dangers of radiation were already well known by that time, they used to wet their paintbrushes with their lips to give them a fine point. The young women paid for this with their health. More and more of them died until four terminally ill former workers eventually sued the company US Radium. Although hey had been defamed by the opposing attorneys as hysterical women, they were eventually satisfied with a modest settlement. A few years later all of them were dead. Above their graves, the radiation is still measurable to this day. Although the operating companies have refused to acknowledge any responsibility, they gradually introduced safety precautions in their facilities. In 1941, after years of studies, the first tolerance levels for radioactive exposure of dial painters were established. They are lower than today's tolerance levels set for workers in nuclear power plants. The Radium Girls were scientifically examined through a broadly funded research programme until the early 1990s. Although the research programme was discontinued in 1993, a final report is still pending.

Radium Girls

  • Radium Girls: Videocollage by the designer Rose Todaro

Who we are

Founded in 2012, the Association for Sustainable Journalism on the Internet is committed to high-quality, independent on-line journalism that stands the test of time. The association promotes and runs journalistic websites dedicated to topics that are hardly covered any more in conventional media. Its members include journalists, photographers, designers and web designers.

Pressbüro Seegrund, which was founded in 1989, is firmly established in the media landscape. Its focus is on feature reports, reportage and non-fiction books. It has launched a number of online magazines in recent years including,, and the latest creation:


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English translation:
Elana Summers


Russian translation:
Alexej Scherbakov


Local interpretors: Galina Kovalch (Belarus),
Irina Gasanova (Ukraine), Chikako Yamamoto (Japan)


Martin Arnold, freelance journalist, author and media entrepreneur for the past 30 years
Urs Fitze, freelance journalist, reportage on politics, the economy, science, travel and the environment" target="_blank">,



Our Aim

Without provoking or causing a scandal, wants to shake things up a bit by encouraging society to reflect on a subject that affects all of us: nuclear power. It is a subject that polarises, turning opponents and supporters into ideologues. And it is a subject that divides the informed and the uninformed in a way that creates intentional and unintentional dependencies. Against the background of the current debates on the 'energy transition', we want to contribute a critical discussion for all those who want to more know about nuclear power. And we want to do our bit to overcome the deep ideological divide that separates supporters and opponents. When it comes to this subject, the truth very quickly becomes relative – or is made relative. You move around in an area where experts, opinion makers, ideologues, affected persons, victims, lobbyists, politicians and world saviours jostle against each other. Everyone should be able to have their say, to tell their truth. The truth of the radiation victims as well as that of the power plant operators, the supporters and the opponents. The second objective of the book is to explore the many facets of truth – and remain receptive to all those who want to make it comfortable for us.

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