North Side: Eben M. Byers
From the Literary Digest, 16 April 1932.
A death by radium poisoning sends a chill of
apprehension over the country.
Radium, the mysterious, powerful ally of the medical profession in its fight on disease, kills a man in New York City. He had taken minute quantities of it for his health.
And now Federal, State, and local authorities are pushing an intensive, nation-wide inquiry into the sale of radium "cures."
But while the authorities are trying to find out how many people have been exposed to these so-called remedies, they point out that under no circumstances should the fate of this radium-poisoning victim be confused with the radium treatment accorded cancer patients.
In these treatments, "no radium actually enters the patient's body," notes the New York Herald Tribune, "but only alpha particles, whose effect is controlled by the specialist giving the treatment."
Eben M. Byers, Pittsburgh steel manufacturer and sportsman, died in a
New York hospital--"the first New York victim," says The Herald
Tribune, "of a nationally advertised 'radium water,' and the second
known to the American medical profession."
"Byers, who was fifty-one, began taking 'Radithor' more than two years ago on advice of a Pittsburgh physiotherapist," says the United Press--
The former national amateur golf champion had complained of pain in his arm and a general run-down condition.
Byers became enthusiastic about the compound. He took as many as two and three bottles daily. He told his friends about it. Several cases of twenty-four bottles each were ordered sent to his residence in Pittsburgh [905 Ridge Avenue](43), Southampton, and Aiken, South Carolina.
Each bottle, according to Dr. Frederick B. Flinn, contained one microgram of radium and one microgram of esothorium, another radio-active compound but cheaper than radium. These were mixed with triple-distilled water. One was instructed to drink from the bottle itself, the entire contents after any meal. Each case was sold for about $30, and contained about $7 worth of radium.
About a year and a half ago, according to his physicians, Byers lost the 'toned-up feeling.' He lost weight and suffered severe headaches. He felt pain, especially in his jaw. He lost several teeth.
The positive diagnosis of radium poisoning was made a year ago, after Dr. Joseph S. Wheelwright, attending physician, had consulted Dr. Flinn. Flinn has diagnosed more cases of radium poisoning induced through industrial contact with the element than has any other American physician.
Byers case was hopeless from the time that diagnosis was first made, it was said. Five micrograms of radium deposited in the bones over a period of years, Dr. Flinn said, were sufficient eventually to cause death. Byers had taken hundreds.
When radium is taken internally, Dr. Flinn said, it is attracted immediately to the bone structures. Once imbedded in the bone, it begins to eat away the bone structure.
One gram of radium emanates 32,000,000 'pin-pricks' against the bone structure. In Byers's case, about 33 1/3 millionths of a gram accumulated in his bones.
Nothing will reduce effectiveness of the attack except the actual elimination of the radium. But to eliminate the radium, Dr. Flinn pointed out, it is necessary also to eliminate a large quantity of the bone calcium. This elimination treatment is effective, therefore, only in those cases which have been detected early.
'Radithor' was manufactured by the Bailey Radium Laboratories, Inc., of East Orange, New Jersey. The head of the laboratories was listed as Dr. William J. A. Bailey, not named in 'American Physicians and Surgeons,' the 'Medical Directory of New York, New Jersey and Connecticut,' or 'Who's Who in American Medicine.'
An investigation of radium dial paint deaths of seven workers in the plant of the United States Radium Plant at East Orange was prolonged to include the Bailey product. The commission's complaint against Bailey's company charged, among other things, false and misleading advertising. Dr. Flinn was one of those testifying that the product was dangerous.
Byers was too ill already to appear himself before the commission in Washington, but his testimony was taken at his Southampton home, September 10, 1931.
Meanwhile, altho the inquiry had not been concluded, the Bailey Company closed its laboratory and ceased advertising or marketing 'Radithor.' Upon completion of the investigation, the commission nevertheless issued a 'cease and desist' order.
"Dr. C. C. Moyar, the Pittsburgh physician who prescribed 'Radithor' for Mr. Byers," says The Herald Tribune, "denied the report that more than a hundred of his patients were suffering from radium poisoning, and volunteered the opinion that Mr. Byers had died from a combination of blood diseases which had induced gout." As this paper quotes Dr. Moyar--
The statement of a New York physiotherapist to the effect that 100 patients of a Pittsburgh physiotherapist were suffering from radium poisoning was an absolute lie. I am the physiotherapist referred to. I never had more than a dozen patients on radium water at any one time. I never had a death among my patients for radium treatment.
I have taken as much or more radium water of the same kind as Mr. Byers took, and I am fifty-one years old, active and healthy. There is less than a microgram in each bottle of water. I believe that radium water has a definite place in the treatment of certain diseases, and I prescribe it when I deem it necessary. This particular kind, 'Radithor,' has been off the market for two years.
And Mr. Bailey, who manufactured "Radithor," "insisted that his
product could not have been the cause of Byers's death."
"He said that he had not discontinued making it because of the intervention of the Federal Trade Commission, but because of the depression. 'I have drunk more radium water than any man alive,' Mr. Bailey said, 'and I never have suffered any ill effects.'"
"If there is any lesson in this case which the general public should
heed," says the Hartford Courant, "it is that anything
containing radium, or even alleged to carry it, should be administered by
Reassurance for those who may fear they have been exposed to radium poisoning marks the editorial comment of the New York Herald Tribune: "The safety, so far as radium poisoning is concerned of modern methods of treating cancer with this element, arises from a fundamental difference in use.
"In these treatments no radioactive material is swallowed to remain a longer or shorter time within the body.
"Persistent swallowers of radium will do well, however, to consult a competent physician immediately, to be tested for accumulated radioactivity, and to begin, if needed, the counteractive treatment devised by Professor Flinn."