Shortly after the discovery of radioactivity, quick thinking entrepreneurs and contemporary holistic medicine men began selling products containing the all-natural property. Claims regarding radiation’s health benefits were endless, until folks like Marie Curie proved them otherwise. (Madame Curie and her husband were well known for entertaining their guests at home parties with glowing flasks filled with radium, according to a terrific book by Richard Rhodes, The Making of the Atomic Bomb.) But in the meantime, untold numbers of people from all walks of life have brushed their teeth with radioactive toothpaste and drank from infusion devices like the Revigator. National Institute of Standards and Technology scientists recently decided to examine the health risks that someone using the Revigator was subject to, and the results are a bit surprising.
According to their recent paper, the researchers measured the amount of radiation emanating from the vessel with a Geiger counter, the radon concentration in the air and water from a jar that had been sealed for one week, and the levels of toxic elements that may have dissolved into water sealed in the jars for one day and one week using a mass spectrometer, a highly sensitive instrument for detecting chemicals and elements.
The team found that radon concentrations in the air and water sampled from jars sealed for one week significantly exceeded the EPA-recommended maximum contaminant levels (MCL). Nevertheless, the team noted that the concentration of radon in the air, given the drafty conditions of an early 20th century home, would not have posed a significant health risk. Moreover, although the levels of radon in the water were high—between 50,000 and 200,000 picoCuries per liter—the study found that, compared to the myriad other disease-related causes of mortality at the time, the chances of dying as a result of drinking radon-infused water were relatively low.
Instead, they found the greatest risks associated with drinking the recommended six to eight daily glasses of “revigated” water was from toxic elements—arsenic, lead, vanadium and uranium—dissolved in the water. Although the concentrations varied with the containers and whether the samples were taken from the top of the containers or from the leaden spout, most of the containers exhibited levels of toxic elements in excess of EPA or OSHA recommendations. Especially striking were the samples of exposed water mixed with a mild acid to mimic wine or fruit juice. Ordinary water kept sealed in one of the jars contained two to twenty times the EPA MCL for arsenic, and some samples showed almost twice as much lead and uranium. The acidified water contained 300 times more arsenic and three times more uranium than the EPA MCL.