You probably know that people did some remarkably silly things with radium in the early part of the 20th century—including putting it inside water jugs, in order to give drinking water that radiation-infused freshness the whole family loves.
Those jugs turned out to be a health hazard—but not just because of the radiation. The radium ore used in the jugs was, apparently, leaching arsenic and lead into the water, too, according to research done by a team led by Michael Epstein, an analytic chemist at Mount St. Mary's University in Emmitsburg, Maryland.
For their study, Epstein and colleagues bought four Revigators from antique stores or on eBay. The jars still exude the same amount of radiation as they did in the early 1900s. Epstein's team used a highly sensitive instrument called a mass spectrometer to analyze the concentration of toxic elements in the radon-infused water ... if people added a slightly acidic beverage such as wine or fruit juice to the jar, the resulting fluid contained 300 times more than the maximum arsenic intake recommended by the EPA.
National Geographic News: Surprise! Radioactive Water Jugs Not as Healthy as Advertised
Maggie Koerth-Baker is the science editor at BoingBoing.net. She writes a monthly column for The New York Times Magazine and is the author of Before the Lights Go Out, a book about electricity, infrastructure, and the future of energy. You can find Maggie on Twitter and Facebook.