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Author Topic: Help! Toxic Watch Parts?  (Read 4659 times)
Camera Obscura
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« on: April 12, 2009, 06:29:39 pm »

At an antique show this weekend I bought a box of assorted watch parts. This is a step in my "I am really going to make a steampunk widget someday. REALLY!" resolve. As I took the box the dealer said, "You know that you should not handle the dials with radium, don't you?" Duh! How do I know which dials have radium? I suppose if they glow in the dark I will know but don't old things eventually lose their ability to glow? If so, as they still toxic? Do they always have the yellowish color that I associate with glow in the dark? There is dust and debris in the bottom of the box. If I clean the little gears and springs with water will that be enough? OR Was the dealer kidding me?

Thanks for input from "watch part" savvy users.
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Zwack
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« Reply #1 on: April 12, 2009, 07:10:04 pm »

You'd be better off putting this in Chronautomata, but the half life of Radium is a mere 1602 years.  That means that the level of radioactivity drops by 50% from the previous level every 1602 years.  If it was on the high side when the watch was made... it's still on the high side.

Be wary of any dials or hands that look like they should glow in the dark.  My suggestion would be to wear exam gloves when handling them, don't breathe any dust (an N95 dust mask?) and separate the ones that glow(ed) from the ones that never did.  Once you've done that I would keep the ones that are radium free apart from the ones that aren't.

Z.
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JingleJoe
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« Reply #2 on: April 12, 2009, 07:11:52 pm »

Some old watches (I think by the brand Timex) had thier numerical portions painted with a paint that contained radioactive radium! Got a geiger counter? Grin They were pretty strongly radioactive too, the mechanisms should be safe but ask around your weirder/scienceier friends, one of them is bound to have a geiger counter Wink

By the by, doesn't anything radioactive glow in UV light and not really at all in the dark unless its like chunks of chernobyl? I have some uranium glass, it glows like a lamp under a UV LED, but then so do alot of non-radioactive things Roll Eyes
« Last Edit: April 12, 2009, 07:14:28 pm by JingleJoe » Logged

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HAC
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« Reply #3 on: April 12, 2009, 07:21:46 pm »

Basic info on radium dials here:  (saves me a lot of typing  Grin)

http://elginwatches.org/help/luminous_dials.html

Cheers
Harold
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Camera Obscura
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« Reply #4 on: April 12, 2009, 09:24:49 pm »

Thanks all. I really don't need to keep the dials. It was the little cogs and springs that I wanted to use. If I pitch the dials is there anything I need to do with the other parts?

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splatman
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« Reply #5 on: April 12, 2009, 10:03:44 pm »

I'm not shure if the gears are/were safe or not, again, use a Geiger counter if you can get hold of one.
As for the dials, put then in a box and ask if anyone wants them. Some people collect/experiment with crazy radioactive old stuff.

Give it a Splat!
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Camera Obscura
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« Reply #6 on: April 13, 2009, 12:36:16 am »

Have no way to get a geiger counter. The world is full of people making things from watch parts. Are they all going to die?
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JingleJoe
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« Reply #7 on: April 13, 2009, 01:16:17 am »

Some people collect/experiment with crazy radioactive old stuff.
Some people are me Wink



I carry a geiger counter with me most places Smiley
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lilibat
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« Reply #8 on: April 13, 2009, 01:27:14 am »

I throw the dials out on the rare occasions I get them, as I usually avoid getting them because I am just going to throw them out. I wash anything useful that is with them then I presume they are most likely safe. The real issue is breathing the dust, at least that is what I have been told.
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Camera Obscura
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« Reply #9 on: April 13, 2009, 03:52:03 am »

lilibat, that is what I have been thinking. I did not want the dials and told him to keep them. I'll pick out what I want and ditch the rest.

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Zwack
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« Reply #10 on: April 13, 2009, 06:22:41 am »

Dust is a big problem if you breathe it.  Alpha particles normally get stopped by the skin but inside you they don't.  So, I still suggest a dust mask (I'm assuming that you don't have access to a full scale radio chemistry lab with glove boxes, dosimeters,...) and exam gloves.  Take the gloves off carefully (use the right hand to pinch the cuff of the left hand glove and pull it off turning it inside out, then holding that glove in the right hand put the left thumb inside the right glove and use that to turn the glove inside out while pulling it off the right hand.  You end up with a pair of gloves inside out and you haven't touched the potentially contaminated outside).

Rinsing the parts thoroughly should remove any traces from them.  However you should consider containing the rinse water and measuring activity in it before dumping it into the sewage system or disposing of it as low level waste (can you tell that I used to work as a health physicist?)

Z.
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Pnakotus
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« Reply #11 on: April 13, 2009, 07:21:15 am »

Some people collect/experiment with crazy radioactive old stuff.
At one point I did, but then I figured out that the stuff I was collecting was killing my beloved magnets Sad No more radioactive stuff for me. Plus, I never kept a geiger counter to tell me how badly I was being exposed to the stuff I was, er um stealing, that was radioactive from where I worked at the time. I just noticed a dramatic decrease in the power of my magnets, and that was enough for me.
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aquafortis
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« Reply #12 on: April 13, 2009, 03:08:54 pm »

Radium emits alpha, beta and gamma particles so beware. It's bad stuff. Pierre curie wore a radium amulet round his neck, it left a nasty dark patch on his skin where it sat. God only knows where that was going, he was hit by a cart and killed anyway.

To determine which dials are radioactive, wrap each dial in tinfoil for a week, keep in the dark, then open each in a darkroom and sort out any that are still glowing. Regular glow-in-the-dark stuff will have burned out by then and will not shine.
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Mr. Boltneck
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« Reply #13 on: April 14, 2009, 02:25:11 am »

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Radioactive_Boy_Scout
The non-dial parts are probably safe enough if you clean them of dust, as noted above.
When my parents came back from Norway by ship, after getting married, they were stopped at Customs in New York, when their alarm clock set off the newly installed (early Cold War) radiation detectors. With the recent Homeland Security port scanning program, apparently they get a number of false positives from clay-based cat-litter. Normally not radioactive enough to stick out above the background count, but it seems that a large truckload of the stuff will blip the meter.
If it helps to put it in perspective, someone born, as I was, in the Western US, right about the time the above-ground nuclear weapon testing ban was signed by the US and USSR, probably had more radioactive exposure by the age of two than a lot of younger adults now have had in their life so far, barring a childhood in the immediate path of the Chernobyl plume. This is not to excuse or to condone my state of being, which may or may not be attributable to irradiation (I have yet to turn green and outgrow everything but my trousers in one go), but rather to point out that while radioactive exposure should not be taken lightly, since you don't get to easily undo it, small doses are everywhere, and not likely to cause instant and horrible death. Sadly, the movies and comic books lied, and it is unlikely to give you either super powers or Incredibly Stretchy Trousers, either.
I must say, I am glad that you are doing your homework on the safety issues. Well done.
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SimpleComplex
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« Reply #14 on: July 03, 2009, 08:37:33 am »

(Umm, not to be all Correcty and stuff but Bruce banner was exposed to Gamma Rays..allowing him to turn into the uhh...hulk when he was angered enough)
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sebastian Inkerman
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« Reply #15 on: July 03, 2009, 10:34:23 am »

According to the nice Mr. Stephen Fry, the line workers working in the watch and clock factories used to have such jolly fun with radium. Painting it on their teeth etc.

Of course, I have no idea of the mortality rate of said workers.
« Last Edit: July 03, 2009, 10:36:57 am by sebastian Inkerman » Logged

Matthias Gladstone
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« Reply #16 on: July 03, 2009, 10:47:23 am »


By the by, doesn't anything radioactive glow in UV light and not really at all in the dark unless its like chunks of chernobyl? I have some uranium glass, it glows like a lamp under a UV LED, but then so do alot of non-radioactive things Roll Eyes

As far as i'm aware, flourescence/luminescence has very little to do with radioactivity - it's caused entirely by changes in the energy levels of the surrounding electrons and has nothing to do with the nucleus.
Radioactive glow in the dark paints work in the same way as non-radioactive ones - a flourescent substance gains energy from a "light" source, then, thanks to the magic of quantum mechanics, emits it at a lower wavelength/intensity. Hence Ultra Violet --> Visible light. In the radioactive paint, this source of energy is radiation, and in non-radioactive paint, it's the sun.
Even very strongly radioactive materiels don't glow in the dark by themselves. The oddly coloured lights at chernobyl were caused by rare metals from the reactor burning up in the intense heat.
Uranium glass glows because of it's physical properties, rather than it's radioactive ones.
Hope that helps,
-Matt
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Mechanic
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« Reply #17 on: July 03, 2009, 11:13:54 am »

According to the nice Mr. Stephen Fry, the line workers working in the watch and clock factories used to have such jolly fun with radium. Painting it on their teeth etc.

Of course, I have no idea of the mortality rate of said workers.


Not good.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Radium_girls
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