The Radium Girls

Mary Hansen / NPR Illinois | 91.9 UIS

Part 2: Most of the radium-tainted earth from decades-old manufacturing in Ottawa has been removed, but one major site still needs cleanup.

Ken Ricci refers to his purchase of a Geiger counter, a handheld machine that detects radiation, as a "God wink." The 91-year-old Ottawa resident picked it up at a garage sale in 1982. Soon after, he and a friend used it to find several hot spots of contamination throughout the central Illinois city.

April 5, 1938, is an important day for worker safety advocates.

On that Tuesday, a judge ruled that a woman's slow, painful degeneration resulted from working at the Radium Dial Company plant in Ottawa, Ill. The former employee accused the firm of knowingly exposing workers to radium powder, a radioactive material used to make glow-in-the-dark watches and other dials.