Wartime wristwatches that could cause cancer from radon gas

The wartime wristwatches that could cause cancer: Timepieces handed down as family heirlooms are found to emit harmful amounts of radon gas

  • British soldiers wore wristwatches in World War II that were handed down
  • Many descendants are at risk of developing cancer from the radium-dial watches
  • They emitted radon 134 times greater than the UK’s recommended safe level

Watches worn by British soldiers during the Second World War – and handed down as family heirlooms – emit radiation that can cause cancer.

The dials on the timepieces, which descendants have kept as a memory of their brave relatives, give off harmful amounts of radon gas, researchers say.

Scientists at the University of Northampton and Kingston University said the gas comes from the paints used to make the watches’ dials glow luminescent in the dark.

Radon exposure is a leading cause of lung cancer deaths.

Watches worn by British soldiers during the Second World War – and handed down as family heirlooms – emit radiation that can cause cancer

In the study, a collection of 30 antique, radium-dial watches emitted radon concentrations 134 times greater than the UK’s recommended safe level when kept in a space the size of a small bedroom.

Co-author Dr Robin Crockett said: ‘In addition to military watches being prized by collectors, many individual radium-dial watches are kept as mementoes by ex-servicemen and their descendants. 

‘[Owners] have the potential to pose a significant health hazard to themselves and their families. Smokers are particularly at risk.’

The study was published by the Geological Society.

The dials on the timepieces, which descendants have kept as a memory of their brave relatives, give off harmful amounts of radon gas, researchers say

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