Kate Moore, Buzzfeed:
Ever since the glowing element had been discovered, it had been known to cause harm; Marie Curie herself had suffered radiation burns from handling it. People had died of radium poisoning before the first dial painter ever picked up her brush. That was why the men at the radium companies wore lead aprons in their laboratories and handled the radium with ivory-tipped tongs. Yet the dial painters were not afforded such protection, or even warned it might be necessary.
That was because, at that time, a small amount of radium — such as the girls were handling — was believed to be beneficial to health: People drank radium water as a tonic, and one could buy cosmetics, butter, milk, and toothpaste laced with the wonder element. Newspapers reported its use would “add years to our lives!”
But that belief was founded upon research conducted by the very same radium firms who had built their lucrative industry around it. They ignored all the danger signs; when asked, managers told the girls the substance would put roses in their cheeks.
The biggest difference between women working in chip manufacturing today and the “radium girls” is that the latter were paid well. That doesn’t excuse the toxicity of the work nor the industry’s lies, but it suggests we’ve gone backwards: not only are women once again encouraged to work in a particularly dangerous industry without adequate protections, they’re not even being compensated for the hazards.