ATSDR - Toxic Substances - Radium
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Radium

CAS ID #: 7440-14-4

Affected Organ Systems: Hematological (Blood Forming), Musculoskeletal (Muscles and Skeleton)

Cancer Effects: None

Chemical Classification: Radionuclides (radioactive materials)

Summary: Radium is a naturally occurring silvery-white radioactive metal that can exist in several forms called isotopes. Radium is formed when uranium and thorium break down in the environment. Uranium and thorium are found in small amounts in most rocks and soil. Two of the main radium isotopes found in the environment are radium-226 and radium-228. Radium undergoes radioactive decay. It divides into two parts-one part is called radiation and the other part is called a daughter. The daughter, like radium, is not stable, and it also divides into radiation and another daughter. The dividing of daughters continues until a stable, nonradioactive daughter is formed. During the decay process, alpha, beta, and gamma radiation are released. Alpha particles can travel only a short distance and cannot travel through your skin. Beta particles can penetrate through your skin, but they cannot go all the way through your body. Gamma radiation can go all the way through your body. Radium has been used as a radiation source for treating cancer, in radiography of metals, and combined with other metals as a neutron source for research and radiation instrument calibration. Until the 1960s, radium was a component of the luminous paints used for watch and clock dials, intrument panels in airplanes, military instruments, and compasses.

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