Help me figure out if my watch is radioactive.
June 28, 2009 8:56 PM   Subscribe

Is my watch hot?

I have a 1920s-era Bulova watch that I would like to have tested to see if it is giving off radioactivity from radium paint. I live in New York City (Midtown) and just need to take the watch someplace where someone with a Geiger counter can give me the verdict on potential gamma ray emission.
posted by yellowcandy to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (10 answers total)
Does it glow in the dark?
posted by ZaneJ. at 9:21 PM on June 28, 2009

Go make friends with someone in the chemistry or physics departments at Columbia or NYU. Talk to the fire department. Or NY Hazmat.

Or, do some Google searches, which show that it really isn't a problem, unless you eat the radium, or if you were the one painting the radium onto the watches and you were licking the tips of the brushes to shape them just so.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 9:23 PM on June 28, 2009

Leave it in a very dark place for a couple hours. Grope around in the dark for it, pick it up and look at it. Does it glow? If it does (and it should) then yes, it's radioactive. But that's OK because it's sealed up inside your Bulova and you won't be taking it apart, will you?
posted by exphysicist345 at 9:28 PM on June 28, 2009

A geiger counter won't detect radium sealed inside a watch.
posted by ryanrs at 12:08 AM on June 29, 2009

Sorry, looks like I was wrong.
posted by ryanrs at 12:49 AM on June 29, 2009

Fire departments will have one as part of their hazmat package.
posted by nuke3ae at 5:03 AM on June 29, 2009

Call the Environmental Health and Safety office of your local university. You want to get measurements both for background and surface contamination, since if the watch enclosure is cracked in any way the dose could be much higher. [not a radiation technician, but had several watches confiscated by my university's EHS office for contamination]
posted by nonane at 5:08 AM on June 29, 2009

Response by poster: So far: university or fire department.

Any others?

Also, Cool Papa, I've seen that article, and I've also seen evidence (watch ryanrs's YouTube link) that some watches are hotter than others and are substantial gamma emitters, way beyond safe levels.

Really, with something that's going to be on my wrist, I think it's much smarter to know than just to trust that it will be OK.
posted by yellowcandy at 6:27 AM on June 29, 2009

Try a gem and mineral museum or a rock shop. I work at a gem museum in NC; we have a Geiger counter in the vault and would be happy to pull it out and run it over somebody's watch.
posted by mygothlaundry at 7:13 AM on June 29, 2009

Not a serious health threat, unless the paint in your watch has an astonishingly high Raduim/Zinc sulfate ratio (more bluish tint than green) or if there is a lot of the paint (the entire face painted rather than just the marker dots.) It IS "hot" though... probably emitting somewhere around 3-5 millirem per year (or just under one "old school" chest x-ray.) Your microwave is potentially a bigger threat, actually.
If you have a construction materials testing company nearby, you could ask if they do Nuclear Method Soil Density Testing, and if they do, ask to speak to their Radiation Safety Officer. He should have a dosimeter on hand as part of his protocols. Ask him if he would mind finding it, putting some new batteries in it and waving it over your watch.
Incidentally, unless your watch was and still is waterproof, it is leaking Radon. (Both the EPA and the NRC are out to get your watch... and this guy.)
posted by EnsignLunchmeat at 6:33 PM on June 29, 2009

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