• Important Executive Director Announcement from the NAWCC

    The NAWCC Board of Directors is pleased to announce that Mr. Rory McEvoy has been named Executive Director of the NAWCC. Rory is an internationally renowned horological scholar and comes to the NAWCC with strong credentials that solidly align with our education, fundraising, and membership growth objectives. He has a postgraduate degree in the conservation and restoration of antique clocks from West Dean College, and throughout his career, he has had the opportunity to handle some of the world’s most important horological artifacts, including longitude timekeepers by Harrison, Kendall, and Mudge.

    Rory formerly worked as Curator of Horology at the Royal Observatory, Greenwich, where his role included day-to-day management of research and digitization projects, writing, public speaking, conservation, convening conferences, exhibition work, and development of acquisition/disposal and collection care policies. In addition, he has worked as a horological specialist at Bonhams in London, where he cataloged and handled many rare timepieces and built important relationships with collectors, buyers, and sellers. Most recently, Rory has used his talents to share his love of horology at the university level by teaching horological theory, history, and the practical repair and making of clocks and watches at Birmingham City University.

    Rory is a British citizen and currently resides in the UK. Pre-COVID-19, Rory and his wife, Kaai, visited HQ in Columbia, Pennsylvania, where they met with staff, spent time in the Museum and Library & Research Center, and toured the area. Rory and Kaai will be relocating to the area as soon as the immigration challenges and travel restrictions due to COVID-19 permit.

    Some of you may already be familiar with Rory as he is also a well-known author and lecturer. His recent publications include the book Harrison Decoded: Towards a Perfect Pendulum Clock, which he edited with Jonathan Betts, and the article “George Graham and the Orrery” in the journal Nuncius.

    Until Rory’s relocation to the United States is complete, he will be working closely with an on-boarding team assembled by the NAWCC Board of Directors to introduce him to the opportunities and challenges before us and to ensure a smooth transition. Rory will be participating in strategic and financial planning immediately, which will allow him to hit the ground running when he arrives in Columbia

    You can read more about Rory McEvoy and this exciting announcement in the upcoming March/April issue of the Watch & Clock Bulletin.

    Please join the entire Board and staff in welcoming Rory to the NAWCC community.

Older alarm clocks, numerals, radioactive?

tickytocky

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I have a few older alarm clocks that I want to fix but the thought of messing with "glow in the dark" radioactivity... makes me think.
Is there a way to test if this is really the case? A cheap geiger dingie? Or am I worrying about nothing. What do you guys do about this? I have some beautiful, 100 year old alarmclocks that I'd love to clean and use... but the thought of it makes me hesitant.
Thanks!
 

novicetimekeeper

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If they are a hundred years old then yes they are likely to be radium paint, but also they probably no longer glow in the dark as the zinc sulphide is spent.

Then you need a detector or a bit of camera film you can develop.

If they do still glow in the dark then you can put them in a light free box for 24 hours and then look at them in the dark. If glowing they are radium paint.

Using them isn't an issue, but working on them does require precautions.
 

tickytocky

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If they are a hundred years old then yes they are likely to be radium paint, but also they probably no longer glow in the dark as the zinc sulphide is spent.

Then you need a detector or a bit of camera film you can develop.

If they do still glow in the dark then you can put them in a light free box for 24 hours and then look at them in the dark. If glowing they are radium paint.

Using them isn't an issue, but working on them does require precautions.
Precautions... as in? Any suggestions other than trying to avoid the dust that surely will be in there and minimum cleaning of the dial?
 

glenhead

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Precautions... as in? Any suggestions other than trying to avoid the dust that surely will be in there and minimum cleaning of the dial?
Don't lick the luminous material. Don't duct-tape the painted side of the dial to your shaved abdomen and leave it there for days.

If you decide to replace the luminous material, when you scrape off the old luminous coating don't push it into a pile and snort it, and don't pick up the dust with a piece of tape and then stick the tape to your arm.

There are many (dozens?) of threads about this in the forums. Opinions on it range from "use common sense" to "evacuate the city, we're all going to die". It's fairly clear which end of the spectrum I fall into. This is absolutely a case of "the poison is in the dosage", and there isn't anywhere near enough dosage in *any* timepiece to come anywhere near poison if you use common sense about it.

If you're not going to do anything with the dial except remove it and replace it after working on the movement and you're really-really-really concerned about it, then put the dial on a shelf somewhere else or something. Or in a metal tin - that'll block all the potential nasties. If you decide to replace the lume and you're really-really-really concerned about it, put the dial in a baggie while you scrape off the old lume and leave all the dust in the baggie, then wrap the baggie in aluminum foil just as a belt-and-suspenders overreaction.

The problems with radium stem from repeated exposure directly with a part of the body over an extended period of time. Messing with flecks in a timepiece doesn't qualify.

Use common sense. Wash your hands.

Asbestos undies in place, so now the "ermahgerd radiation and chemicals" crowd can bring on the flames.

Glen
 

Altashot

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It’s safe. You would have to be exposed to massive amounts of this stuff for a prolonged time for it to have any ill effects on you. In fact, we are all exposed to some natural radiation everyday, which is more than the radium produces.

I heard of if story of ladies getting sick from it years ago. They were the ladies who applied the paint to the dials and hands. What they were doing was to obtain a very fine point on their paint brushes, they were actually sucking the bristles with pursed lips, then dipping in paint and applied it. Repeating that procedure for years eventually got some of them sick.

Like Glen said, common sense.
And don’t such paint brushes.

M.
 
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novicetimekeeper

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As has been stated, the risk is low. However it is incorrect to say that if you put it in a tin then no radiation can get out of the tin. You need a couple of centimetres of lead or a couple of feet of concrete.

The risk is from ingesting or inhaling the paint as dust.
 

bikerclockguy

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Best laugh I’ve had all day guys! It’s not hard to separate people by age according to their responses, either. When I was a kid, “Glows in the dark!”, was a tag line and big selling point for lots of cheap toys. And then there were friction motors and sea monkeys...
 

Chris Radek

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The main thing is, you want to get zero of the dust into your lungs. If you get any in there, it can stick, and zap you from the inside for the rest of your life.

If you have to scrape a hand, you might first saturate it in a little puddle of oil and scrape under the oil to avoid making dust.
 

Kevin W.

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I am with you Glen. I dont lose sleep over this. Crossing a street is more hazardous. For me anyways.
 
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novicetimekeeper

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I am with you Glen. I dont lose sleep over this. Crossing a street is more hazardous. For me anyways.
It's a cumulative risk, unless you are suggesting that by repairing the clock the OP won't be crossing a street.

Life is full of risks, and we survive by mitigating them. Crossing the street without looking both ways is more risky than crossing with the precaution of checking first for traffic.

All that has been said here is that precautions should be taken to mitigate the risks of disassembly/repair.

Ingesting or inhaling radium will not necessarily kill you from cancer caused by radium, but not inhaling or ingesting radium definitely won't.

As the Radium-226 decays it emits alpha beta and gamma in the process and produces radon gas.

The alpha is the most ionising but unless inhaled or ingested it is stopped by almost anything, tissue paper, dead skin cells on your skin, so it can't do you any harm if you keep it outside of you. Beta is more penetrating though less ionising, that will be stopped by the movement and by the crystal on a watch pretty much though some will get through. Gamma is the most penetrating and least ionising so it will go through pretty much anything but usually with no effect.

So avoiding inhaling or ingesting dust or radon gas is a sensible precaution whatever your age or traffic experience.
 
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R. Croswell

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One point that has not been emphasized is that the Radium has a long half-life and remains "hot" even after the luminous dial no longer glows in the dark. The fact remains that radiation is harmful and there is no 100% safe level of radiation. Another point that needs to be made is that it isn't uncommon to have some of the luminous costings flake off over the years and accumulate in the clock case. Opening the case can release these particles into the air unexpectedly. As already mentioned, it is the inhaled or ingested particles that pose the greater risk. Its a personal risk assessment question. Not everyone who smokes gets lung cancer but those who do usually regret the decisions they made.

I have four old alarm clocks that I believe have Radium dials. I've serviced all four - perhaps a poor decision. I have them all stored in a room that is seldom used. I also have implemented a policy of not accepting clocks with Radium dials for repair. I suppose that's over reacting for someone 79 years old as I'll surely die from something else first.

RC
 
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novicetimekeeper

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Yes a half life of 1600 years, so not glowing is not an indication of not radioactive. You need to do as I said at the beginning if you want to know.
 

shutterbug

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I think the hype about the dangers comes from the bad experiences of the original women who painted those hands and dials. The were encouraged to keep the brush sharp by using their lips to form a point. Most of them died from cancer of the throat or mouth. The occasional interaction with those old hands and dials by us is probably less dangerous than a PET scan. Sure there's radiation ... but it's minimal risk on an occasional basis.
 
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Kevin W.

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If the op does as Glen said he will be fine. He has full control in being cautios. I on the other hand do not control one of the two nuts behind the wheels of cars and have been hit because of these idiots. I have watches and clocks with radium and i see no danger in owning them.
 
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S_Owsley

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It’s safe. You would have to be exposed to massive amounts of this stuff for a prolonged time for it to have any ill effects on you. In fact, we are all exposed to some natural radiation everyday, which is more than the radium produces.
Unless you quote credible sources, I'm going to assume you just pulled this out of ...
 
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kinsler33

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My concern is that radium dust could be inhaled, and that you absolutely do not need. I wonder what the ladies who restore clock dials think about this. I understand that radium dials were used in military equipment like aircraft clocks far longer than they were used in civilian equipment.

I hesitate to be alarmist about this, for the hazard is probably minimal, but it's worth bringing up occasionally.

M Kinsler
 
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novicetimekeeper

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Unless you quote credible sources, I'm going to assume you just pulled this out of ...
We are indeed exposed to background radiation, but that is far lower than can be measured from the paint. Otherwise we wouldn't need radium as zinc sulphide paint would glow continuously without it.

Background radiation comes from the rocks around us, and since WWII and nuclear testing there is a bit more of it in more sources. We are also continuously irradiated by cosmic rays, an enormous number, but most go straight through us with no interaction. They won't light up the zinc sulphide enough for us to see it.

I saw a brilliant picture of the sun recently taken while it was the other side of earth, using a detector to pick up the radiation that went straight through the planet and out the other side.
 
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S_Owsley

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I think people are confusing contaminative radiation, such as that found in radium as opposed to background radiation from sources such as the sun. Background radiation can be harmful, but that is not the same as actual contaminative particles from actual physical radioactive materials. It's one thing to take an airplane flight or be exposed to sun radiation and an entirely different thing to actually ingest contamination that can be stockpiled in cells, continually radiating all cells around them. You can't see it, or smell it. You might not know if you have sufficiently cleaned a contaminated surface without some instrument to measure it. Don't assume if you accidentally ingest radium containing dust or breathe it that it's going to magically be expelled from your body.

I would suggest wearing disposable clothing, gloves and a face mask, laying down a disposable layer to catch any radioactive debris and a long soapy shower when done. I would clean my tools when done or dispose of them, because they are going to get "dirty". 30 years ago, I might have thought differently and just laughed off as nuts what I am now very seriously saying. I'm not claiming to be an expert, but in the 1980's I worked at operating nuclear plants and wore disposable protective clothing, sometimes double layers, and was regularly monitored for radiation exposure with both film badges and dosimeters. We were taught the difference between being exposed to a radioactive source (like a radioactive hot spot in a piece of equipment or pipe) and radioactive surface contamination. Contamination is contamination. You can shield from a hot source, limit your exposure time, but contamination is just that. It can be spread and smeared and embedded into the fibers of your clothes. It can get in your hair. It can be ingested or inhaled, and it is not benign. If you know what you are doing, then you know how to protect yourself and those around you. If you don't, I suggest researching credible sources before starting.

End of rant, and I hope I didn't beat a dead horse or offend anyone.








I
 
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roughbarked

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I mentioned picking one's nose in another thread. Clearly the distinction that has to be made here is that the radium found in luminous dials cannot penetrate your skin. It can however get inside your body via orifices well known to us all. This is clearly where the harm begins.

Minimalistic as my training was, I was simply told not to lick the stuff.
in regard to sieverts if you consider one banana as delivering one sievert then smoking tobacco is thousands of times worse than visiting Chernobyl.
 

Jonas

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After working for a few years in the education field of all things nuclear in a US military school, I would fall somewhere in the middle of the two “extremes” presented in the various posts. I would say don’t be afraid of it, but also don’t take unnecessary risk.

I recently removed what I assumed was radium from a clock face. What I did is kept it at arms length away from my face, as well as lower than face level, then scraped it into a plastic bag in a trash can. I then promptly disposed of the trash bag, and throughly washed my hands as well as the scraper that I had used.

It would also probably be a good idea to use a soft tissue, or disposable soft bristle brush to brush off the clock face afterward to remove as much of the dust as possible
 

Fitzclan

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This discussion has made the rounds before, and I am always amazed at those who seem to want to clear the playing field and profess that there is nothing to fear, it’s all hype, we are all subjected to radiation from the Sun, X-rays at the dentist, etc.
What makes you think that more exposure is OK? The danger is real, and it is (imho), not worth the risk. Radiation can not only affect you, but future generations. Are you really willing to take that chance?
I’m not.
I also am pretty sure that some, if not all of those professing the “low risk”, and supposed ”safety” of exposure, have no credentials in the field of radioactivity to make such assertions. After all, the women who lost thsir lives and families were told that there was no risk. No thanks!
Forgive me if I sound alarmist, and I don’t want to make an enemies here, but I do believe that caution is warranted.
Sorry for the rant. Over and out.
 

novicetimekeeper

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Nobody said caution wasn't warranted.
Oh I think a few came pretty close.

BTW if anybody IS scraping off radium paint can I suggest getting it wet first? Scraping will just generate dust particles and that increases the risk of ingesting or inhaling material that emits alpha and beta these are the things you really do not want going on inside you.
 

Kevin W.

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I never said either not to be cautios either. What i said do as Glen stated and you will be fine. The watch on your wrist and the alarm clock are not health risks to be so worried about.
 

R. Croswell

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I recently removed what I assumed was radium from a clock face. What I did is kept it at arms length away from my face, as well as lower than face level, then scraped it into a plastic bag in a trash can. I then promptly disposed of the trash bag...............
I'm afraid that safe handling of radioactive contamination requires requires methods considerably more involved than scraping into a plastic bag and are above my pay grade. Jonas' comments do raise another serious question, just how does one properly dispose of a trash bag containing Radium dial scrapings? Ionization type smoke detectors, which contain a tiny amount of radioactive material, warn do not place in the trash. Smoke detectors, radioactive material, explosives, and a few other things are not even accepted at our landfill on hazardous waste disposal day twice a year. A few flakes of luminous dial paint burred in a landfill probably won't cause the end of the world but the fines could potentially be significant if one gets caught. Beyond disposing of dial scrapings, how can one legally and safely get rid of old clocks with radium dials? USPS, FedEx, and UPS all have restrictions on shipping "hazardous materials". I see these sold on eBay all the time (that's where I got mine), but what is my liability if I sell them and someone claims, even if falsely, that they got cancer from a clock that I sold? At my age I have to think about who might get one of these clocks after I'm gone - someone who may not be aware of the potential risks. Tell me how to get rid of four "hot" Big Bens legally and safely.

So that's my rant for today.

RC
 

Kevin W.

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Well in Canada, we are told to dispose of smoke detectors in the garbage. I was somewaht surprised my self reading this.
 

Kevin W.

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.
 

shutterbug

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I think trying to dispose of radiated paint is exposing a person to more danger than leaving it alone. Why create dust and stuff if you don't have to?
The ladies who painted these dials did not all get cancer, but a large percentage of them did. Typically after 4 or more years of daily exposure to the paint directly into their mouth. They were knowingly or unknowingly falsely assured that the habit was safe. The remnants of the paint we find today on dials and hands is considerably less than what they were exposed to, but precautions are always a good thing. The safest thing would probably be to destroy the whole clock/watch using the local laws regarding how to go about that. I doubt that many are willing to go to that extreme.
 
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novicetimekeeper

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In the UK I am allowed to dispose of a clock at work in the trade waste if double bagged and under 40 kbq (40,000 counts per second)

I can dispose of a radium cup source by the grout method, that is setting it in mortar, waiting for the mortar to cure and then disposing in the trade waste, in that case it has to go unlabelled into the trade waste container the evening before collection.

I also have to advise the authority that audits us of my intention to dispose and when I have done so.
 

tickytocky

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Boy. First post and I start a wildfire. Sorry. I've tried to digest all answers and it is almost impossible to end up with a firm answer that would give me a direction to go in that I am comfortable with. That website of the Canadians really makes you nervous. I guess you can clean one up to get it running but making it a pass time for pleasure might not be an answer. First thing I did was look in the bunch of alarms I have and see at least 6, some of them really beautiful and old... that make me nervous. And those were the ones I wanted to work on, get running and use. I will move them from where they are; below the foot of the bed, though, for sure. Not really next to me but still too near apparently for my own good. Live and learn. So... this thread has been an awakening... and not really for the better for me. I will put off working on them for now and go find some funny looking clock with wooden plates and worm holes. One is in the post right now... Black Forest Clock from maybe 1860's. And at least the dial doesn't glow... I hope :)
 

roughbarked

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As a repair person, I regularly stripped the dials and hands off such clocks and treated them as just another clock repair.

If as any self respecting clock or watch repairer would do, the least amount of disturbance to the dial and hands possible is the actual intent from the get go.

Nobody wants the extra cost of having to repair or replace such items. So all care = no responsibility.

However, the shop I worked for just tossed all these in a box which eventually became many boxes under the shop for 66 years and more because the family purchased an existing jewellery shop complete with all the old repairs uncollected.

Now these are scattered all over my backyard as I sort through them. Thankfully it hasn't rained, though I wish it would. Perhaps I should invest in a geiger counter?
 

Kevin W.

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What was scary about the Canadian website? Its always wild fire when this subject comes up. It will pass.
 

novicetimekeeper

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To keep the use of watches and clocks in perspective I refer to the story of a previous physics advisor to the organisation that support science in schools in England & Wales and co-ordinates the radiation protection structure required by law in the UK.

When he retired he gave his watch to his employers rather than them giving him one. The reason? It had a radium dial and he had been wearing it all through his working career and using it to demonstrate when teaching about radiation to teachers and technicians from schools across England & Wales.
 
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tickytocky

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Thanks... all of you. I haven't really decided what to do... but the main point would seem to be that having too many in one place might be a problem. So doing all repairs with a thought to dust etc might be the trick... and spreading them out instead of all in one shelf or on one bedside table... one at a time? We will figure it out... but it is indeed a good question... Thanks!
 

shutterbug

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Probably earlier for clocks. The cancer issue was discovered in the mid forties.
 
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