Radium water actually even less healthy than you already thought


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

Image courtesy Flickr user A. M. Kuchling, via CC


  1. And even if they tried to limit the danger by diluting the contents it would become even more powerful!

  2. Bah, if I learned anything from playing Fallout, it’s that radiation isn’t that bad and is easily cured anyway.


  3. it should be noted that lots of 1900 era glazes leach heavy metals of all types. Lead is a powerful flux (it lowers the melting point of Silica) and a multitude of heavy metals and metal oxides were (and still are) used in the formulation of glazes.

    while now banned from commercial use for tableware in the US. Lead is still incorporated in “art” glazes. not to mention boron,Maganeese,Cobalt, Iron( ferrous oxide), Copper (particulaly nasty) Uranium (Hunter green), Tin, Titanium(white) and the really really nasty one, Cadnium (whihc makes a beutiful canary Yellow).

    you can get a lead detector stick, but im not sure if it will pick up the others.
    if you have a old pot, dont let acids set in it for a long time. typically short use is fine, but the real problem is when you are storing stff like vinegar or making sourkraut in them..

    if it’s old, if it’s beutiful, admire it, put for dinner ware, go to walmart, or better yet, call me…(BG)

    Moose Studios Pottery

  4. I love that Nostalgia…

    Like Gernsback Science fiction where the crew is outside a rocket ship shooting zap rays in a jungle.

    “Captain!” shouts a young ensign who looks almost like Archie, “You got shot! Are you OK?”

    “Don’t worry, young Ensign, even though those inferior Venisians stole some of our ray-guns, a few hits won’t kill us. Our suits are more advanced, they are made out of a new SCIENCE material… Asbestos! We can breathe easy in these…”

    Then the Captain turns: “Re-Group, men! We’ll show these slimy tentacled sub-men not to whine about using different bathrooms or drinking fountains!”

  5. eBay?! I’ve always wanted a revigator and never been able to find one anywhere. I always have to settle for fiestaware (the most radioactive) or a radium dial clock or a feeble little piece of depression/Vaseline glass.

    I figured this whole issue was settled when a guy who drank thousands of glasses of radium water had his lower jaw fall off.

  6. I hate it when my dissertation topic shows up on BB. Nothing anyone’s said here is really wrong, it’s just that it’s so much RIGHTER when you blather on for 350 pages about it!

    Just for the record, though, the guy who “drank thousands of glasses of radium water” (Eben Byers) was drinking pre-bottled water with radium in solution. It was just his bad luck that, unlike every other “radium tonic” out there, his WASN’T fraudulently devoid of anything radioactive. So, tonics and Revigators (and their clones) “work” on two totally different principles, as the many people trying to sell you one or the other would have been quick to point out.

    Let’s not forget that our 21st-century cautiousness about the fruits of SCIENCE!, including and especially the kind we put into our bodies, is a learned behavior. Specifically, we learned it in the beginning of the 20th century, thanks in large part to our first encounters with radioactivity, x rays, various new classes of synthetic chemicals, and so forth. The people buying Revigators were not particularly “silly” or incautious by any fair standard (i.e., one based on what the average consumer could have known at the time).

  7. I figured this whole issue was settled when a guy who drank thousands of glasses of radium water had his lower jaw fall off.

    The public enchantment with radiation ended abruptly in 1922 when Eben Byers died.. Byers was a celebrity, a millionaire steel tycoon, a sportsman and the U.S. amateur golf champion. On the urging of his physician, he started drinking a radioactive bottled water called Radithor. Byers was convinced it gave him “zip” and often drank a few of the 2.2-ounce bottles daily. At $1.00 each, one had to be a millionaire to afford such a habit. He drank close to 1,400 bottles between 1928 and 1930 before dying horribly in 1932 of radium poisoning at the age of 51. Suddenly the American Medical Association took a stand against all radiation unless it was administered by an MD

  8. When I was living in Brazil 15 years ago all bottled water would list on the label how radioactive the spring it came from was. I could never find anyone who could explain why that was or if the radioactivity was supposed to be a good thing or not. I always went for the weakest radioactivity I could find. I wonder how radioactive my tap water is here in the US.

  9. @moosehunter: but in light of product recalls and the spats over lead in toys, is glazed ceramic ware from Wal-Mart really trustworthy? I sure as hell don’t trust anything when the dollar is more important than the lives of the slaves who produce it. Or the suckers who buy it. Just sayin’, we can’t trust nobody in an organization over 30 people.

  10. “Just sayin’, we can’t trust nobody in an organization over 30 people”

    thats not a very intellegent statement, some of the best know potteries have hundred of workers, and have been around for hundreds of years.
    the best selling Pottery, Laughlin, which makes Fiestaware, has been making the same tableware for 170 years (1840) until 1890 they used cadnium for thier lemongrass yeallow, 1904 was the last year they used Uranium for thier Hunter Greeen, and Lead glaze production ended in 1926. you can still find those old colours in antique shops, but the same plates and colours can be got for 14.95 a setting at Sears or Target…

    but, if you insist on only wanting to do business with small compainies, I’ll be happy to trade you Pottery for presidential portraits

  11. ripplepoppy: Radioactive consumer products are really hard to find these days, but not impossible if you know where to look (a Geiger counter makes it much easier). Even if you go to a antique shop you really have to dig to find something. With everyone freaked out over the idea of terrorists using a homemade atomic bomb, a lot more checking is done these days. Most of the kind of radioactivity you’re thinking of is accidental contamination that happens because of scrap yards. Once every so many years somebody brings in a old hospital irradiation machine with the rest of the scrap metal, nobody pays attention, the machine gets melted down in the furnace and everything comes out radioactive. The metal go off to the factory which produces radioactive pipe elbows that have to be recalled.

    Fiestaware isn’t radioactive anymore, the government and fear of lawsuits doesn’t let companies use radioactive materials in consumer products these days. It used to be thorium could be found in camera lenses, welding rods and mantles for camp lanterns but I think it’s being removed from the mantles at the very least. Potassium, a mineral necessary for life, is very slightly radioactive in its concentrated form. If you have a really good Geiger counter you can detect it from potassium pills and very high potassium fertilizer. There’s too little in bananas or potatoes to be easily detected. The kaolin that used to be in Koapectate is radioactive, but there’s so little radiation you’d have to literally consume half a ton of diarrhea medicine to get a serious dose of radiation. Here’s a couple of fun links for you:



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