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The Radium Water Worked Fine Until His Jaw Came Off
March 2, 2010 8:34 PM   Subscribe

The Radium Water Worked Fine Until His Jaw Came Off: Eben Byers was just one victim of a clear case of radioactive quackery. But the theory may not have been completely bunk. It's the radiation hormesis hypothesis. Previously.
posted by sunnichka (27 comments total) 10 users marked this as a favorite

 
Weird -- I was just mentioning this fun fact in history the other day -- great way to wig people out...
posted by Alexandra Kitty at 8:45 PM on March 2, 2010


Speaking of which, Ebert's said that the likely cause of his salivory cancer, which wound up necessitating the removal of his jaw, was radiation treatments for ear infections when he was a child.
posted by Silentgoldfish at 8:57 PM on March 2, 2010 [4 favorites]


I want the facts to be known. I want contrarian ideas to get a fair hearing. This guy Calabrese sounds like a good honest scientist who's studying something interesting that needs to be investigated.

But I worry about contrarian science which happens to be convenient to powerful corporations chafing under inconvenient safety regulations.
posted by edheil at 9:11 PM on March 2, 2010 [2 favorites]


I was shocked by the "five years ago" timeline until I realized that the article in the first link is from 1932...
posted by mmoncur at 9:32 PM on March 2, 2010 [6 favorites]


When I was an exchange student in Japan, my host family took me to a hot springs. It had really murky yellowish mineral water. As I was soaking, I asked what the mineral was. It was uranium oxide, this was a naturally radioactive hot springs, people traveled from all over to get a dose of radiation there. I immediately got out of the water, washed thoroughly, and rinsed all the water out of my ears. The Japanese have some really unscientific medical beliefs.
I don't believe my dose of "hot" water was the cause of the tumor in my ear that was discovered just a few months later. Nor do I suspect that radiation was the reason the tricky brain surgery went disastrously wrong and cost me 10 years of recovery time. But I'm just sayin', I'd never intentionally soak in a pool of radioactive water, hormesis or not.
posted by charlie don't surf at 10:05 PM on March 2, 2010 [16 favorites]


Eben Byers is a distant relative of mine on my mother's side of the family. I have an uncle who shares Eben's father's name. Neat post.
posted by emelenjr at 10:40 PM on March 2, 2010


somethingsomethingNuka-Cola Quantum.
posted by Ritchie at 10:41 PM on March 2, 2010


I don'tam inclined to believe myyour dose of "hot" water was the cause of the tumor in myyour ear that was discovered just a few months later.

HOLY SHIT HOLY SHIT NOW I KNOW HOW THE ARACHNOPHOBES FEEL IN CAMEL SPIDER THREADS.

Man, oh... man. And... like... of all the places you'd think, "Well, surely if I go there... I will be warned about radioactivity..."

Holy.

Dude, I've always wanted to surf... but here, take my ticket... you go first.

Or maybe I'm too credulous. I can't find references to "hot" springs in Japan online (although I can see that maybe the advertising flies under the radar of my googlebinging).

Anyone else heard of this? Because, on the one hand, it's nuts, and on the other, that's what I find compelling about it.
posted by Rat Spatula at 10:41 PM on March 2, 2010


From the CNN Fortune link: To estimate the risk at low doses, regulators assume that the toxic effects fall in a straight line with the dose. Tumor incidence in rats vs. doses of saccharin, for instance, would be graphed on X and Y axes as a straight line. The handy line shows the purported risk at doses down to zero.

But scientists who go to the trouble of measuring actual toxic effects at low levels often observe a J-shaped "dose response" curve instead of a straight line. That means the risks many toxins pose at real-world levels have probably been exaggerated.


Thank you, CNN, for summarizing science that was known to be shit 40 years ago as if it was standard practice today.
posted by benzenedream at 11:05 PM on March 2, 2010 [4 favorites]


Apparently there are more than a few of these hot springs in Japan, they're known as a houshanousen (放射能泉) which just means radioactive hot springs. I googled to find the one near Hakodate that I visited, but there is so much goddam info on the web about onsen (hot spring resorts) in Japan by onsen fanatics, it's impossible to sift through and find it. I wasn't driving so I don't know exactly where it was.
In any case, it is likely that the tumor started growing well before my radiation bath, but I'll never know for sure.
posted by charlie don't surf at 11:15 PM on March 2, 2010 [1 favorite]


P.S. getting back to the topic instead of being all about me..
I did some poking around and I found what is apparently a list of not just radioactive hot springs in Japan, but radium hot springs in Japan. Holy crap. It's in Japanese which I'm too lazy to translate at the moment but I know there are some Japanese speakers on MeFi who can read this and vouch for the existence of these hot springs (since Rat Spatula was skeptical). Wow, I was surprised that people would soak in uranium saturated water, but now radium water, that's just incredible.
posted by charlie don't surf at 11:27 PM on March 2, 2010


Is uranium added to false teeth to give them a natural glow?

In the wake of Hiroshima and Nagasaki it occurred to the dental-ceramics industry that a substance that had destroyed cities might not be such a good thing to use in somebody's mouth. Manufacturers discussed the situation with the Atomic Energy Commission in the 1950s. The debate proceeded along the following lines. On the one hand, putting uranium in people's mouths might possibly give them cancer and kill them. On the other hand, their teeth looked great. It was an easy call. The industry was given a federal exemption to continue using uranium.
posted by Rhaomi at 12:13 AM on March 3, 2010 [3 favorites]


NOW I KNOW HOW THE ARACHNOPHOBES FEEL IN CAMEL SPIDER THREADS.

Good god yes.

... this was a naturally radioactive hot springs...
Apparently there are more than a few of these hot springs in Japan...
... radium hot springs in Japan...


LALALALALALA I CAN'T HEAR YOU
posted by lekvar at 12:35 AM on March 3, 2010


It's not just a Japanese thing. There's a popular hot springs site in the Rockies called Radium Hot Springs, and it's named after radium in the water, but wikipedia says the amount is inconsequential.
posted by painquale at 12:48 AM on March 3, 2010


charlie don't surf: I did some poking around and I found what is apparently a list of not just radioactive hot springs in Japan, but radium hot springs in Japan.

I can only read a little of it, but part of the page is a list of hot springs by name, along with information about their water temperature and the type of spring (e.g., "Radioactive carbon dioxide containing boric acid salt spring", thanks google translate). Then they have ratings in curies and what looks like an old unit of radioactivity called Mache.

Who knows if it's real (a certain amount of "hot spring water" in Japan is fake), but someone must be making money off it.
posted by A Thousand Baited Hooks at 2:19 AM on March 3, 2010


Let's take a deep breath here and talk about doses. You, me, everyone, gets a significant dose of radiation from various background sources every year. Here, this seems fairly accurate - a couple of mSv per year is about normal. Now, sure, possibly this is carcinogenic, but unless you want to walk around figuratively wearing a lead suit and breathing through a sub-micron filter, there isn't much you can do about it. Most first-world countries set their AEL (annual exposure limits) based on some multiple of the background exposure - where I work (a nuclear reactor complex) the limit is set to 10x background, but if you approach it (as measured by the dosimeters we all have to wear) the Radiation Protection people come and have a stern word to you about your work practices. [Purely as an anecdotal aside, when I was a graduate student I burned through my AEL in about 3 months, and was dragged before a board who, as a punishment, tasked me with updating the departmental work-practices manual and also writing a 10k word description of what I could have done to avoid the obviously excessive exposure I'd experience]
In the past this wasn't the case so much - we all know that Marie Curie died of semi-acute radiation poisoning, as did several Los Alamos scientists. Those bad old days are past, however: there are now very strict standards and hell to pay if you break them - I can't image the Japanese (who quite recently lost some reactor technicians to a criticality accident) are any exception to this rule - natural Uranium (mostly U238) isn't very radioactive, and is probably more dangerous as a heavy metal than as a radionuclide.
posted by overyield at 3:11 AM on March 3, 2010 [6 favorites]


Right, overyield, that's why I say I didn't implicate the radiation in my tumor, but then, you never know. I suspect I got a similar dose of radiation just from the long high-altitude airline flights to and from Japan, or from eating off my "radioactive red" Fiestaware plates frequently. But this does all start to add up, and I'm not sure if I ingested any or my wet ears kept a persistent dose for hours. And I wonder about the onsen employees, who work around this stuff every day.
And for that matter, the Tokaimura criticality accident just goes to show the cavalier attitude many Japanese, even nuclear professionals, have towards radiation. I mean seriously, did you read about what happened? They were mixing enriched uranium solutions in buckets, because using the safety equipment slowed down the mixing and took too long and it was a pain in the ass following safety procedures by the book. So they wrote their own unofficial, illegal book and then even broke those procedures.
posted by charlie don't surf at 4:34 AM on March 3, 2010


I read about this in a local history, didn't know it ever made Time Magazine. Byers (and his jaw) lived two blocks up the hill from my house in the Byers-Lyons House which is now the president's office of CCAC, the county community college. I'm sure that he'd be horrified that all those riff-raff junior college students are hanging out in his parlor.
posted by octothorpe at 4:56 AM on March 3, 2010


that's why I say I didn't implicate the radiation in my tumor, but then, you never know.

I'm going to use that expression in more of my research papers. E.g. "A Mann Whitney test revealed insignificant order effects between the treatments. But you never know."
posted by Sutekh at 6:27 AM on March 3, 2010 [1 favorite]


But I'm just sayin', I'd never intentionally soak in a pool of radioactive water, hormesis or not.

This falls under the category of "things you don't tell your doctor for fear of your insurance company finding out".
posted by nathan_teske at 8:00 AM on March 3, 2010 [2 favorites]


I took me several readings of the article to find the "1932" byline.
posted by GuyZero at 9:50 AM on March 3, 2010


A friend gave me a Revigator she'd trash-picked. I've never dared use it, so it sits on the floor, looking silently malign.
Some of the containers are very pleasing to look at, though.
posted by vickyverky at 11:43 AM on March 3, 2010


Thanks, cds, for the followup. Mind, blown.

And vickyverky, I can totally understand why you wouldn't drink from it, but what possesses you to keep a radon-generating apparatus in your home?
posted by Rat Spatula at 2:39 PM on March 3, 2010


You'd think Hiroshima and Nagasaki would have given people pause but things like shoe-fitting X-Ray machines were in use well into the 1970s. Luckily, I can't recall being subjected to one of them as a kid.
posted by tommasz at 2:40 PM on March 3, 2010


Charlie don't surf: I wasn't castigating you, your comment was a model of reasonable, intelligent expression. It was other comments that aggravated me, and to be fair I'm pretty easily irked on this subject. My apologies if I made you feel attacked.
posted by overyield at 3:47 PM on March 3, 2010


The radiation exposure may seem infinitesimal, but you forget the succussion action of the constantly-bubbling hot spring.
posted by Rat Spatula at 8:55 PM on March 3, 2010


Oh no overyield, I didn't feel attacked, we totally agree on this issue.

And Sutekh, I used the phrase "but you never know" in the most literal sense. If somehow there was a way to perfectly diagnose the source of my tumor, it would be futile because they already removed it and disposed of the tissue, so there is no way to know.
posted by charlie don't surf at 9:15 PM on March 3, 2010


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