Significant Discoveries and the History of Radiation Protection
Philosophers and scientists have been interested in the basic building blocks
of our physical universe since ancient times. In fact, the ancient Greeks were
the first to believe that all matter in the universe must be made of tiny
building blocks  or atoms. Beginning with the earliest scholars of science
throughout history and into this century, scientists have been driven to learn
more about the atom and how to control it.
Significant Discoveries
Scientists truly began to make advances in the study of atomic structure and
radiation during the late part of the 19th century. Dmitri Mendeleev
introduced the periodic system of elements in 1869. In December 1895,
Wilhelm Roentgen accidentally discovered the basic properties of x-rays
when he captured an x-ray image of his wife's hand. This led to further
discoveries in the properties of ionizing radiation and the possibility of using
radiation in medicine. In 1896, Henri Becquerel announced the discovery of
radioactivity to the Academy of Sciences in Paris after he discovered the
radioactive properties of uranium. Marie and Pierre Curie studied the
radioactivity of uranium for several years, and discovered the elements
polonium and radium after chemically extracting uranium from the ore,
Marie Curie reported their discovery and coined the term "radioactivity" in
1898. By the early 1900s the study of radiation was a widely accepted
scientific endeavor.
New Dangers Come with Discoveries
These discoveries did not come without a price. Scientists
learned that radiation was not only a source of energy and
medicine; it could also be a potential threat to human
health if not handled properly. In fact, early pioneers in
radiation research died from radiation- induced illnesses
from too much exposure.
For instance, Thomas Edison's assistant died from a
radiation-induced tumor as a result of too much x-ray
exposure. As new uses for radioactive elements were
discovered, potentially fatal incidents of overexposure
During World War I, radium paint (a mixture of radium and phosphor) was used on military aircraft
instruments to make them glow in the dark so they would be more visible to pilots flying at night. After
the war was over, the industry that supported this technology changed its focus to paint glow-in-the-
dark clocks and watch faces. The young women who painted these items would form a fine point on
their paint brushes by pulling the freshly-dipped brushes between their lips before applying the paint
onto the watch faces. Unknowingly, they were swallowing small amounts of radium and damaging their
bodies. Several of the women died of unexplained anemia and disease complications with their mouth,
teeth and jaw. The dentist who treated one of the women connected the issues with the radium dial
United States	RadTown Radiation Protection Activity Set	EPA 402-B-19-015
Environmental Protection

Meeting the Need for Radiation Protection
By 1915, the British Roentgen Society had adopted a resolution to protect people from overexposure to
x-rays. This was one of the first organized efforts in radiation protection.
American organizations had adopted the British protection rules by 1922. Awareness and education
continued to grow. Throughout the 1920s and 1930s more guidelines were developed, scientists were
studying the effects of radiation on living organisms, and various organizations were formed to address
radiation protection in the United States and overseas.
By the 1930s, physicists were beginning to understand fission and radioactive decay, which led to the
research and development of the first nuclear reactors and atomic weapons in the 1940s. Until that
time, radiation protection was primarily a non-governmental function. After World War II, the
development of the atomic bomb and nuclear reactors caused the federal government to establish
policies dealing with human exposure to radiation. In 1959, the Federal Radiation Council was
established to:
	Advise the President of the United States on radiological issues that affected public health.
	Provide guidance to all federal agencies in setting radiation protection standards.
	Work with the states on radiation issues.
In 1970, Congress created the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to serve as the primary
federal agency to protect people and the environment from harmful and avoidable exposure to
radiation. EPA's Radiation Protection Division carries out this responsibility by:
	Setting standards that protect people and the environment.
	Managing federal radiation protection programs.
	Providing radiation protection guidance and emergency response training to other federal
	Working closely with other national and international radiation protection organizations to
further our scientific understanding of radiation risk.
A rnA United States	RadTown Radiation Protection Activity Set	EPA 402-B-19-015
Environmental Protection
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