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Symbol: Ra
Atomic Number: 88
Atomic Weight: 226 (most stable)
Boiling Point: 1413 K
Melting Point: 973 K
Density at 300K: 5.0 g/cm3
Covalent radius: ???
Atomic radius: ???
Atomic volume: 45.2 cm3/mol
First ionization potental: 5.279 V
Specific heat capacity: 0.094 Jg-1K-1
Thermal conductivity: 18.6 Wm-1K-1
Electrical conductivity: 1.0*106Ω-1m-1
Heat of fusion: 8.37 kJ/mol
Heat of vaporization: 136.82 kJ/mol
Electronegativity: 0.89 (Pauling's)

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(So named (Latin radius, "ray") in 1898, when it was discovered, by Pierre and Marie Curie and Gustave Bemont because it emits rays) A radioactive, metallic chemical element, the heaviest of the alkaline-earth metals, found in very small amounts in pitchblende and other minerals containing uranium. It undergoes spontaneous atomic disintegration through several stages, emitting alpha, beta, and gamma rays and finally forming an isotope of lead. Radium is used in neutron sources and in the treatment of cancer and other diseases. Salts of radium exhibit fluorescence, and were formerly used in luminous watch dials.

Symbol: Ra
Atomic number: 88
Atomic weight: 226 (isotope with the longest known half-life)
Density (at room temperature and pressure): 5 g/cc
Melting point: 700°C
Boiling point: 1,140°C
Main valence: +2
Ground state electron configuration: [Rn]7s2

If a person eats or drinks radium-tainted materials, about 80% of the radium will be excreted fairly quickly. The remaining 20% will be absorbed into the bloodstream and carried throughout the body.

Because radium is chemically similar to calcium, the body will mistakenly use it in various biochemical pathways that require calcium. In particular, the body will try to incorporate radium into bones and teeth.

Thus, smaller, chronic doses of radium have been strongly associated with cancer, particularly bone cancer. Larger doses can result in much more immediately serious disease.

An illness termed "radium jaw" (similar to "phossy jaw") was first seen in the mid-1920 amongst young women who worked in clock-dial painting factories that used radium to create the luminous paint. These women had the habit of licking their brushes to make the bristles form a point. As a result of their radium exposure, they were suffering horrible illness: their jawbones were disintegrating, their teeth were fracturing and falling out, and they were suffering from awful mouth and gum infections and ulcers.

A forensic pathologist named Harrison Martland discovered the radium paint was the culprit in 1925 after he tested the women and found that their breath carried radon gas (which is created from radium decay) and that their bodies were giving off faint gamma radiation.

Many of the radium-poisoned women died young, often from massive infections caused as a side effect of their immune systems having been severely impaired. Their bone marrow -- and thus their ability to make white blood cells -- had been destroyed by the radiation. These women didn't live nearly long enough to get cancer. Autopsies on the women showed that their spleens and livers were giving off alpha radiation and their bones were so radioactive that they would make an image if they were laid on photographic paper in a darkroom.

Most people are exposed to radium as a result of occupational exposures from working with radioactive materials, generally by breathing in tainted dust or vapors. Uranium miners are especially vulnerable. Radium itself is not thought to be readily absorbed through the skin, but the gamma radiation it gives off makes working near it unsafe.

If a person believes he or she has radium poisoning, they can get their urine tested for telltale radioactivity or have their breath tested for radon. Radium in the bloodstream may be removed with a chelating agent; however, once it's gotten into bones and teeth, the main medical treatment is supportive care for symptoms.

Small amounts of radium are found in coal, so people who live in coal-burning areas will be exposed to more of the radionuclide than people in other areas.

Also, radium occurs naturally in some soils and water. The EPA sets the acceptable limit for drinking water exposure at 5 picocuries per liter and 5 picocuries per gram of soil in the first 15 centimeters of soil and 15 picocuries per gram in deeper soil.  Some naturally-tainted aquifers such as the Hickory Aquifer in West Texas may have many times the limit, though most water supplies have less than 1 picocurie per liter.

  • San Angelo Standard Times articles (various)

Ra`di*um (?), n. [NL., fr. L. radius ray.] (Chem.)

An intensely radioactive metallic element found (combined) in minute quantities in pitchblende, and various other uranium minerals. Symbol, Ra; atomic weight, 226.4. Radium was discovered by M. and Mme. Curie, of Paris, who in 1902 separated compounds of it by a tedious process from pitchblende. Its compounds color flames carmine and give a characteristic spectrum. It resembles barium chemically. Radium preparations are remarkable for maintaining themselves at a higher temperature than their surroundings, and for their radiations, which are of three kinds: alpha rays, beta rays, and gamma rays (see these terms). By reason of these rays they ionize gases, affect photographic plates, cause sores on the skin, and produce many other striking effects. Their degree of activity depends on the proportion of radium present, but not on its state of chemical combination or on external conditions.The radioactivity of radium is therefore an atomic property, and is explained as result from a disintegration of the atom. This breaking up occurs in at least seven stages; the successive main products have been studied and are called radium emanation or exradio, radium A, radium B, radium C, etc. (The emanation is a heavy gas, the later products are solids.) These products are regarded as unstable elements, each with an atomic weight a little lower than its predecessor. It is possible that lead is the stable end product. At the same time the light gas helium is formed; it probably consists of the expelled alpha particles. The heat effect mentioned above is ascribed to the impacts of these particles. Radium, in turn, is believed to be formed indirectly by an immeasurably slow disintegration of uranium.


© Webster 1913

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