Periodic Table -> Radium


Radium Details

Radium Symbol: Ra

Radium Atomic Number: 88

Radium Atomic Weight: (226)

What is Radium?

Radium is a solid metal that belongs to the group of the alkaline earth metals and has no stable isotopes. Naturally occurring radium is found in animals, plants, water, soils, and rock. It is mainly found in Phosphate rocks. While the element is present in uranium ores, it is a scarce one. There is only 0.14 grams in 1,000 kg of uranium. It is usually found in the form of radium bromide and chloride which are byproducts. The element was discovered in 1898 by Marie and Pierre Curie and it was in 1910 when it was first isolated.

Physical and Chemical Properties
The element is silvery-white in color and emits radiation. Scientists have reported over 12 nuclear isomers, and Ra-221 to Ra-234 are isomers with longer half lives. The element emits gamma, beta, and alpha rays and decomposes in water, forming the compound radium hydroxide. The boiling point is 1140 C (2084 F) and the melting point is 700 C (1292 F). Its ionic radius is unknown. The element is soft and lustrous and shares similar properties with barium. It is a solid metal with a body-centered cubic structure.

Medical Treatments and Other Applications
This metal is used for medical treatment, including cancer treatment. Radon gas, which is produced through radioactive decay, is used in radon spas for therapeutic purposes. Radon therapy is offered in Russia, Austria, and other European countries (mostly in Central Europe). One of the isotopes, radium-223 is used to treat bone metastases and prostate cancer. The survival for patients who receive treatment is 14 months and 11 months for patients who are given placebo. Side effects have been reported, including foot swelling, vomiting, diarrhea, and nausea. Practitioners also report incidences of neutropenia, lymphocytopenia, anemia, and other conditions. In the past, radium was added to different products, including food ingredients, hair creams, and toothpastes. In addition, the element was used to produce paints for clocks, aircraft switches, watches, etc. Isotopes such as caesium-137 and cobalt-60 are more commonly used today because they are safer to manipulate. Titrium has replaced radium in the production of paints. During the Second World War, radium was mainly used because it made gauges and dials in airplane visible to pilots at night. The metal is also used in scientific research in combination with beryllium.

Health Effects and the Environment
Radium is present in small concentrations in the environment but levels have increased because of industrial operations, including uranium mining and coal burning. The amounts accumulated in air and soils are unknown, however. Both radon gas and radium are radioactive, and precautions should be taken. Exposure increases the risk for cancer and other debilitating and serious conditions. The effects of exposure depend on the amount of radium in air, soil, and water. Good ventilation is required at storage facilities so that radon gas does not accumulate. In general, this element is volatile although it is a heavy one.

While no health effects have been reported at low levels, high levels increase the risk for conditions such as cataract, anemia, and teeth fractures. Some studies also suggest that exposure increases the risk for cancer and premature death. Skin contact also causes ulcers to develop. Some researchers even claim that Marie Curie developed aplastic anemia while handling radium. Exposure to gamma radiation occurs through inhalation and ingestion. Radon, however, is a more serious health hazard because it accumulates in buildings. The metal and its salts are water soluble, and higher concentrations are present in some areas. It also accumulates in aquatic plants and fish.

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