skip to main content
OSTI.GOV title logo U.S. Department of Energy
Office of Scientific and Technical Information

Title: From the Lost Radium Files: Misadventures in the Absence of Training, Regulation, and Accountability

Abstract

Purpose: Radium was the foundation of brachytherapy in the early decades of the 20th century. Despite being a most precious and perilous substance, it was mislaid with surprising frequency. This essay explores how it was lost, the efforts taken to recover it, and measures instituted to prevent mishandling. Methods and Materials: Review of contemporary literature, government publications, archives, and lay press. Results: Radium is a particularly dangerous substance because of its long half-life, its gaseous daughter (radon), and the high-energy emissions of its decay products. Despite the hazard, it was unregulated for most of the century. Any physician could obtain and administer it, and protocols for safe handling were generally lacking. Change came with appreciation of the danger, regulation, mandated training, and the institution of a culture of accountability. Unfortunately, careless management of medical radionuclides remains a global hazard. Conclusion: Responsible stewardship of radioactive material was not a high priority, for practitioners or the federal government, for much of the 20{sup th} century. As a result, large quantities of radium had gone astray, possibly subjecting the general public to continued radiation exposure. Lessons from the radium era remain relevant, as medical radionuclides are still mishandled.

Authors:
 [1];  [1]
  1. Department of Radiation Oncology, University of Massachusetts Medical School, Worcester, Massachusetts (United States)
Publication Date:
OSTI Identifier:
22149626
Resource Type:
Journal Article
Journal Name:
International Journal of Radiation Oncology, Biology and Physics
Additional Journal Information:
Journal Volume: 84; Journal Issue: 4; Other Information: Copyright (c) 2012 Elsevier Science B.V., Amsterdam, The Netherlands, All rights reserved.; Country of input: International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA); Journal ID: ISSN 0360-3016
Country of Publication:
United States
Language:
English
Subject:
07 ISOTOPES AND RADIATION SOURCES; 62 RADIOLOGY AND NUCLEAR MEDICINE; BRACHYTHERAPY; HALF-LIFE; HEALTH HAZARDS; RADIATION PROTECTION; RADIOACTIVE MATERIALS; RADIOISOTOPES; RADIUM; RADON; REGULATIONS; TRAINING

Citation Formats

Aronowitz, Jesse N., E-mail: jesse.aronowitz@umassmemorial.org, and Lubenau, Joel O. From the Lost Radium Files: Misadventures in the Absence of Training, Regulation, and Accountability. United States: N. p., 2012. Web. doi:10.1016/J.IJROBP.2012.01.057.
Aronowitz, Jesse N., E-mail: jesse.aronowitz@umassmemorial.org, & Lubenau, Joel O. From the Lost Radium Files: Misadventures in the Absence of Training, Regulation, and Accountability. United States. doi:10.1016/J.IJROBP.2012.01.057.
Aronowitz, Jesse N., E-mail: jesse.aronowitz@umassmemorial.org, and Lubenau, Joel O. Thu . "From the Lost Radium Files: Misadventures in the Absence of Training, Regulation, and Accountability". United States. doi:10.1016/J.IJROBP.2012.01.057.
@article{osti_22149626,
title = {From the Lost Radium Files: Misadventures in the Absence of Training, Regulation, and Accountability},
author = {Aronowitz, Jesse N., E-mail: jesse.aronowitz@umassmemorial.org and Lubenau, Joel O.},
abstractNote = {Purpose: Radium was the foundation of brachytherapy in the early decades of the 20th century. Despite being a most precious and perilous substance, it was mislaid with surprising frequency. This essay explores how it was lost, the efforts taken to recover it, and measures instituted to prevent mishandling. Methods and Materials: Review of contemporary literature, government publications, archives, and lay press. Results: Radium is a particularly dangerous substance because of its long half-life, its gaseous daughter (radon), and the high-energy emissions of its decay products. Despite the hazard, it was unregulated for most of the century. Any physician could obtain and administer it, and protocols for safe handling were generally lacking. Change came with appreciation of the danger, regulation, mandated training, and the institution of a culture of accountability. Unfortunately, careless management of medical radionuclides remains a global hazard. Conclusion: Responsible stewardship of radioactive material was not a high priority, for practitioners or the federal government, for much of the 20{sup th} century. As a result, large quantities of radium had gone astray, possibly subjecting the general public to continued radiation exposure. Lessons from the radium era remain relevant, as medical radionuclides are still mishandled.},
doi = {10.1016/J.IJROBP.2012.01.057},
journal = {International Journal of Radiation Oncology, Biology and Physics},
issn = {0360-3016},
number = 4,
volume = 84,
place = {United States},
year = {2012},
month = {11}
}