Poster Issued by the New York Department of Health (ca. 1981)

At some time during the 1930s and 1940s, gold seeds that had previously contained radon-222 were melted down by an unknown individual or individuals.  Presumably this occurred somewhere in New York State. The gold, contaminated with the long lived decay products of radon (Pb-210, Bi-210 and Po-210), was mixed with uncontaminated gold and used to manufacture jewelry. 

Quoting an article from the August 30, 1981 issue of the Syracuse Herald-American: "The state Health Department will man a special booth at the State Fair to screen gold jewelry for possible radiation contamination. Several months ago, health officials said they had discovered a number of contaminated pieces of gold jewelry, which may have caused skin irritations to their owners. Since the start of the year, health officials have spotted about 150 pieces of radioactive jewelry, nearly half of which were class rings or pins from the Buffalo area, dating back to the 1930s and 1940s. Some of the wearers of radioactive jewelry eventually had fingers amputated because of cancer. Health officials theorized that radon gold seeds – previously used in cancer therapy – were obtained illegally and used in the manufacture of the jewelry. Dave Axelrod, the state’s health commissioner, said while authorities had not discovered many such pieces recently, he still believed it was necessary to check for radioactive pieces of jewelry in circulation.  

The State Fair continues through Labor Day."

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Last updated: 07/25/07
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