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February 18, 1998

Radium GirlsRadium Girls: Women and Industrial Health Reform, 1910-1935

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Copyright 1998 American Medical Association. All Rights Reserved. Applicable FARS/DFARS Restrictions Apply to Government Use.1998American Medical Association

JAMA. 1998;279(7):555-556. doi:10.1001/jama.279.7.555-JBK0218-2-1

by Claudia Clark, is not just another review of cancer among radium dial painters, but a historical study of the social milieu of the early radium bone necrosis patients and their fight for compensation. This pattern of interaction among victims, society, and employers has been repeated many times (with some variation), with newly discovered industrial diseases and some consumer product injuries, as from tobacco smoking.

The pattern starts with management assumptions that corporate financial health and products are more important than worker and consumer health, and that the corporation will be protected from serious legal liability by workers' compensation or other laws. When a new disease appears among a group of workers, it is usually misdiagnosed by medical practitioners (radium necrosis of the jaw was initially diagnosed as "phossy jaw"—phosphorus necrosis—by both dentists and physicians). Workers or their physicians notice that several employees have a similar disease and ask the employer if it could be due to the work. Any connection with work is denied, and workers are assured that no hazard exists.

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