Factory worker didn’t know she was licking radiation – until her jaw fell off

More than 50 female factory workers died after licking radium before the devastating side effects of radiation were known.

As the radiation spread through their bodies, many lost teeth and developed bone cancer and one woman's jaw fell off.

Scientific history is littered with cautionary tales like that of the factory workers of America in the 1920s, who are now referred to as the Radium Girls.

Radium was one of the earliest radioactive elements discovered and was incorporated into the luminous paints that watchmakers used to paint the dials of their products.

In the 1920s, the harmful health effects of radiation exposure were not widely known which was a recipe for tragedy for the factory women.

As their job was to hand paint the dials of the watches, their employers had instructed them to lick their paint brushes between applying the coat – to give them a sharp finish.

What the women and the factory owners didn't know at the time was that they were ingesting potentially lethal levels of radiation directly into their bodies.

It didn't take long for the devastating effects of radiation poisoning to take effect.

These harrowing symptoms include dental pain, lesions, ulcers, amenia and bone fractures as the radiation mutated their bodies.

Many workers would eventually contract bone cancer.

In 1923, the first Radium Girl died from her condition in the most horrific of fashions as her jaw detached from her skull before she died.

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This would come to be known as Radium Jaw and by 1924 over a dozen more workers had died.

It's thought that over 50 women died from the poisoning although the full number will likely never be known.

Following a successful legal battle made by affected Radium Girls, extensive changes were made to the way the watches were produced and women were no longer asked to lick the brushes.

Amazingly, radium paint was still used in watches up to the 1970s.

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