Murray Bookchin: using x-rays for hair removal and fitting children’s shoes (1962)

To make matters worse, X-ray equipment was rapidly debased into a cosmetic agent and, finally, into a sales promotion device. It was found that X rays could cause a loss of hair (epilation), an effect that suggested lucrative possibilities. By the 1920′s many physicians, beauticians, and self-appointed “epilation specialists” had begun to treat women with radiation for the removal of “superfluous hair.” One New York physician, Dr. Albert C. Geyser, developed a “harmless” method of hair removal that involved cumulative dosages of at least 500 roentgens over a twelve-week period of radiation treatment. The method, named the “Tricho System,” was very successful, and beauticians trained by Geyser’s “Tricho Institute” began operating in many parts of the United States and Canada. It soon became evident, however, that women treated according to the “Tricho System” lost substantially more than unwanted hair. Many individuals acquired radiodermatitis (skin inflammation), severe radiation burns, festering skin ulcers, and, in time, cancer. The “Tricho” story is one of the more tragic episodes in the history of radiation. It is believed that the victims of Geyser’s system numbered in the thousands; the exact number of those who suffered latent injury and premature death will never be known.

Although radiation is no longer employed in the American beauty parlor, the use of X-ray equipment to fit shoes still lingers in a number of communities. The equipment is used mainly on the feet of children. As of 1960, the use of the shoe-fitting fluoroscope had been banned in twenty-nine states. Some of the other states regulate the use of the machine, but in a few states there are no restrictions at all. A number of local surveys cited by Schubert and Lapp have shown that the machines are often defective, giving high doses of radiation to both the child and the salesman. The Michigan Department of Health, for example, found shoe-fitting machines that emitted as many as 65 roentgens (r) a minute. A survey in Boston showed that irradiation of the foot ranged from 0.5 to 5.8 r a second. (The use of shoe-fitting fluoroscopes has been banned in Boston by state law and is regulated in Michigan.) “For a 22-second exposure, which is commonly used, the feet receive from 10 to 116 rl” Schubert and Lapp write. “Remember, too, that one child may have his feet examined many times while trying on different shoes. Similar dosage measurements have been reported by the United States Public Health Service, which states that the average dosages to the children’s feet are between 7 r and 14 r per exposure.” The amount of scattered radiation that reaches the child’s pelvic region and gonads may run as high as 0.2 roentgens for a Twenty second exposure.

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Murray Bookchin (under the pseudonym Lewis Herber), Our Synthetic Environment, chapter 6. Originally published in 1962, this text taken from Anarchy Archives.

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