Radium Dials and Hands – AUGH!

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  • #48027
    mncorrado
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    • Topics Started: 1
    • Total Posts: 3

    Hello –

    I have a few Elgin and Waltham wrist watches from the 50’s. Someday I would like to clean and restore them to their former glory so to speak. My question relates to the radium used in the watches at that time.

    I have seen many differing opinions on this topic on the web… ranging from immediately get rid of anything from that time period… you can keep it but never open the case… to use some level of caution but the risks of these watches is very overblown. What are the newer trained watchmakers told?

    Perplexed to say the least. I am seeking some level of guidance.

    Thanks!
    Jeff

    #50495
    Bob Tascione
    Moderator
    • Topics Started: 38
    • Total Posts: 1553

    Good to see you up here Jeff!

    I too have often wondered about the dangers, if any, of working and wearing watches with radium filled hands and dials. My personal feeling has been that occasional repairs made on these watches if approached with a little caution isn’t a problem. By caution I mean handling them with tweezers and other tools and avoid any physical contact. This feeling isn’t based on an educated guess as I truly know zip about the dangers of minute exposure to radium. It’s based solely on an uneducated, irrational justification I’ve made motivated by my uncontrollable urge to play with vintage watches made during the radium days!
    I don’t know what new watchmakers are taught about the subject. Would be interesting to hear more on that topic.

    Here’s a link to some good info on the subject of radium and tritium as well as other compounds used in these watches: http://www.trusted-forwarder.org/elgin/help/luminous_dials.html

    I haven’t grown a third eye or any extra fingers or toes yet so so far so good.

    Aside from the link I’m sure this post didn’t help much if at all…just wanted to welcome you up here Jeff!

    Bob

    #50496
    wingman
    Participant
    • Topics Started: 34
    • Total Posts: 91

    I’m not an expert on radium either but I know that aircraft avionic shops won’t work on instruments that had their dial painted with it. You might contact one of the shops and ask them about it.

    Wingman

    #50497
    mncorrado
    Participant
    • Topics Started: 1
    • Total Posts: 3

    Thanks for the replies guys… I contacted the safety officer where I used to work. He has access to a survey meter and said he would be happy to scan my watches. I probably will have him do it over the next couple of weeks. When I get it completed I will share the results if people are interested.

    I am taking the middle of the road approach so far. I won’t be getting to my wrist watches for quite a while as I am a beginner and have a number of pocket watches to learn on without any radium dials. Perhaps there really is a happy medium somewhere to be found.

    Thanks for the welcome and I hope that I will be able to participate and learn like everyone else!
    Jeff

    #50498
    Bob Tascione
    Moderator
    • Topics Started: 38
    • Total Posts: 1553

    Hi Jeff,
    That would be VERY interesting to know! It might be helpful (if possible) to have some simple exposure comparison chart or table explaining the results as they relate to what’s considered say from “safe” to “you’re DEAD in a week” as I’m sure I wouldn’t know what the numbers mean otherwise. Those aircraft clocks that Wingman mentioned look like they’re loaded with radium so it’s easy to believe that exposure to them might be many times more powerful than smaller wrist watches. It would be great to get a measurement on one of those too…but since I’ve been within close proximity to many of those over the years it’s prbbably better not to know!

    Thanks Jeff, any results you can post up here will be appreciated,

    Have FUN,
    Bob

    #50499
    mncorrado
    Participant
    • Topics Started: 1
    • Total Posts: 3

    It sounds like a plan. I will see if I can pull it off. I recall reading that millions of kids were once told not to sit close to a television as it would make your eyes go bad or something like that. I don’t think the tv’s messed up kids eyes… though maybe something else did. Probably from not completing their homework!

    From what I have read as well… the US watch companies were indeed phasing out the use of the Radium 226 as early as the 50’s. I guess risk is all relative. What is more dangerous… working at a gas station or liquor store late at night alone or occasionally handling a watch with a very small amount of radium? Probably both are extremely safe… except for the “one” that is in the wrong place at the wrong time. Yea it all sounds scary but I would guess the same could be said about any processed food. Yet we all eat tons of the stuff.

    Jeff

    #50500
    wingman
    Participant
    • Topics Started: 34
    • Total Posts: 91

    I was talking to a fellow recently who had attended our NAWCC Chapter BBQ near Vancouver. As he was crossing back to the US and waiting in the line up. Several US Customs Agents approached his car. They asked him if he was OK and had anything wrong with him. The fellow is 92. So that was an obvious question. He said no and that he felt fine. When he got to the gate they pulled him over into the waiting area asked he and his wife to come inside. They then proceeded to search his car. A few minutes later they returned with a clock he had brought to the Mart. The clock was from a WWII submarine and had a radium dial. The sensitive instruments at the border had picked up the radio active material over 100 feet from the border crossing. Following this he was allow to carry on home.

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mncorradoRadium Dials and Hands – AUGH!