Glenn Fleishman writes, "A responsible dealer of the radioactive element radium, a substance once pushed widely as a quack cure, tried to keep the genie in the bottle. Theresa Everline explains that in the first half of the 20th century, Frank Hartman, known as the Radium Hound, kept track of accidents and incompetence in handling radium. His diaries reveal that radium lingers in forgotten places."
Radium has a spectral quality. And it’s hard to fathom. If a box of it gets dropped in a dumpster, you won’t feel it when you’re nearby. Its energy is logarithmic: you can be six feet away from it and be fine, then you can move to six inches away and still be fine, and then you move slightly closer and it’s suddenly causing you grave harm. One can imagine this mystery fueling all the stages of people’s reactions to radium, as Lavine identifies them: the fascination, the commodification, the backlash when, as Lavine puts it, “People got tired of waiting for the miracle to happen.”
Now Allard and his radiation-protection team are the ones mopping it up in Pennsylvania. What they find can sound startling to the layperson. He tells about a plant in Lock Haven, designated as contaminated in 2008, that once manufactured aircraft instruments, many of which were coated with radium paint so they’d glow: one building razed, 543 tons of soil carted away. Or a whole neighborhood in Lansdowne that needed cleaning up because in the 1930s a University of Pennsylvania physics professor enriched radium in the basement of his house; five decades later, after the contamination was discovered, the house was demolished, the sidewalks and portions of the street torn up, the sewer line replaced.
Radium Hound [Theresa Everline/Medium]