Be Wary Of Radioactive Bracelets And Similar

Before you start cutting up that ‘negative ion’ health bracelet or personal massager, be aware that these are highly likely to contain thorium oxide or similar radioactive powder, as this research video by [Justin Atkin] (also embedded after the break) over at The Thought Emporium YouTube channel shows. Even ignoring the irony that thorium oxide is primarily an alpha (He+) emitter and thus not a ‘negative ion’ source (which would be beta decay, with e), thorium oxide isn’t something you want on your skin, or inside your lungs.

These bracelets and similar items appear to embed grains of thorium oxide into the usual silicon-polymer-based bracelet material, without any measures to prevent grains from falling out over time. More dangerous are the items such as the massage wand, which is essentially a metal tube that is filled with thorium oxide powder. This is not the kind of item you want to open on your kitchen table and have it spill everywhere.

Considering that these items are readily available for sale on Amazon, EBay and elsewhere, giving items like these a quick check with the ol’ Geiger counter before ripping them open or cutting them up for a project seems like a healthy idea. Nobody wants to cause a radiological incident in their workshop, after all.

57 thoughts on “Be Wary Of Radioactive Bracelets And Similar

    1. Those were the first things that came to my mind too.

      I have to wonder why quacks even bother putting a dangerous active ingredient in there – wouldn’t sand be cheaper? And unless they actually expect their customers to check the product with a Geiger counter, who’s going to notice?

  1. Speak for yourself, Earthling.
    Incidentally some fellow made a “Polonium Pen” a while back to detect (allegedly) 210Po but it also works for other purposes. Obviously the gold standard would be a proper Geiger tube but it will work with other sensors.

    I came up with a variant using the principle of resonance taking components from a piezo inverter and adapting them for high voltage/low current with a 10F2xx as the driver for GaN FETs. Turns out that they use very little power in this mode!
    You can buy these online as they are used in other things such as laser printers.

  2. Remember that TIG electrode can embed up to 2% thorium and are also sold over the counter…
    Ok you don’t stick them in your a.s but I doubt most hobby welder have a grinder with dust filter to sharpen them.

      1. Really? That is weird. What supplier? How did they remove all of the Th-230 (the isotope that is the greatest hazard here)? I can’t find a source anywhere for Th depleted of Th-230.

        I suspect what you missed, or are ignoring, is that the bulk electrode presents substantially no risk (from radiation– if you poke yourself with a sharp or hot one, or try to eat one, that is a different story) as the Th is an alpha emitter, and only the alphas produced very close to the surface can get out, and few of them make it far in air. They get no easy entry to the body (the dead layer on the surface of your skin is sufficient protection for the low exposure here).

        The risk is the dust from grinding. Lots of surface relative to bulk, so a much greater portion of the alphas get out, and the fines can get into lungs, eyes, food or drink, and worked into the skin, among other things, to gain entry to the body where the alpha particles can do harm. This is a significant risk.

        Just holding a fresh electrode to a counter will not show much, if anything,. above background. Try the filter bag on my grinder. It needs to be disposed labelled and stickered for a good reason. They get scanned at disposal, and then go into the low-level waste chain. This reminds me- it is about due for a swap.

        1. (this is without even getting into the secondary radiation… radium 226 is the decay product, with half life 1600y, which then decays to radon- a radioactive gas, but not really significant here due to the halflife of Ra-226)

      2. It’s an alpha emitter, some (many?) geiger counters are really not all that sensitive to alpha particles as those tend to stop when they hit the front window of the tube rather than passing through into the tube and triggering a detection. Unless you’re sure you were using equipment that really can detect low levels of alpha radiation, the most likely scenario is that the thorium just isn’t showing up on the detector you were using.

        Alpha is anyway almost harmless until you start actually ingesting alpha emitters as dust or gas. Hence the concern with *grinding* thoriated rods is reasonable (there’s fairly good evidence that that carries health risk) but I’d happily juggle them all day.

      3. My thoriated tungsten electrodes are quite radioactive: they have about twice the clicks per second as the radioactive check source in my geiger counter.
        I suspect what you got was ceriated tungsten, which is increasingly substituted for thoriated tungsten for welding DC as it works almost as well but isn’t radioactive.

      4. needs to be with a red strip
        You also need a GM tube (or other type of sensor if you’re willing to feed an expensive hobby…) that’s sensitive to alpha radiation, otherwise you will not see much above the background.

        got a pack on a shelf, about 4 feet from me and they definitely are radioactive, even a beta sensitive tube noticeably increases count when they’re touching ;-)

  3. those old enough will remembed those lantern mantels, once burned they would be extremely brittle, as kids we used to touch those, they would break, and granpa would be very angry. i bet those released thorium dioxide dust also when in use, amazinfly, we all survived.
    this radiation fear is unreasonable and the result of decades of propaganda. radioactive elements are natural and everywhere.
    and btw, where is the hack?

      1. Yeah, people get cancer. But is there any evidence that it is mostly the result of radiation exposure, or could it be due to exposure to many other things we’re exposed to throughout our lives? Could it be from exposure to certain viruses, some of which are associated with certain cancers? Or could it be from free radicals which are a product of the metabolic process itself? In essence, the life process, itself can cause cancer. Therefore the only way to guarantee you won’t get it is to kill yourself before you do.

      1. I don’t see any misinformation:
        They are brittle, once burned.
        For sure grandpa was angry, if not for radioactive dust then just because he had to buy a new one.
        Probably Th dust was released but the author of the posting survived, perhaps also all the others from his family, which were there.
        Very much propaganda of all directions exist.
        And (many, not all) radioactive elements are natural and everywhere. Especially Thorium, but you also find uranium in e.g. coal ash. You have even radioactive K 40 in your body.

        1. The issue with radioactive material in your body is that once it’s there, it’s there to stay. And all that time, it will be expelling radiation. And for every expelled radioactive particle, there is a very small chance that it might mutate your cell in such a way that it could run out of control, causing cancer. So once inhaled, for every second that you live, the chances that you might get cancer increases. Of the millions of expelled radioactive particles, only one has to hit the ‘right’ spot.

          1. Too bad the body doesn’t have a system for expelling foreign particles from the lungs.
            *cough* *cough*

            (yes, I know that a minuscule amount of it might remain, but overall a healthy human body is actually extremely good at defending itself from all kinds of threats, including inhaled particulates)

    1. Yes, they are.
      But did you deliberately wear that mantles on your body for prolonged periods of time? Probably not.
      So I do not fear proper use of radioactive elements for a specific use and clear purpose. But that’s not the case here. The Americium in a smoke detector also has it’s good use, but it is not (and shall never be) marketed as a health improvement. Except of course, that early detection of a fire can greatly improve your health and live expectancy. :-)

  4. I’m the designer of one of the counters used in the video (the alpha one with the thin round window, brushed Al case).

    For those who think things like “thorium only emits alphas” – I’d point out that things are much messier than that. For one thing, when a megavolt alpha hits, say, some other atom in the substance, an X ray is often emitted as an electron is kicked out of the target for a bit. Further, Th decays into Ra (radium), starting the thorium decay chain, some of the parts of which emit various beta, alpha, and gamma with fairly short half lives. (see wikipedia for example)
    Radioactivity is never all that neat.

    Thorium TIG rods are pretty hot. So are those mantles, one of which we provided with that counter as a calibration source – it counts around 6k CPM(!) – and it still counts while in a baggie, or even behind that beta shield cover – not as much, but. Putting enough Th rods over the counter window to roughly cover it gives nearly the same count. Note that Th rods have a red band on the end to mark what they are, and that most newer TIG rods aren’t Th, but instead use some rare earth mix to improve electron emission, and are, of course, marked with different color bands.

    That said, though you shouldn’t eat this kind of stuff, and I personally wouldn’t rub it on my goodies either, it’s “not that bad”. You won’t die from handling it a bit, though DNA damage, such as this can produce (and so can numerous chemicals and UV in the environment) is a crap shoot and less is what you want. ThO2 is quite inert and not especially bio-active. Now, those decay products are another story, as always.

    1. In the video he states a dose rate from your detector. As thorium emits alpha beta and gamma a geiger counter like this will give a vastly inflated dose rate. Also they are usually calibrated to cs-137 further inflating a u or th dose reading. What are your thoughts on this and how inflated do you believe the dose he took was? I believe that the only way to get an accurate or close to accurate dose would be an micro rem ion chamber type detector.

    2. Had anyone considered the “”massage wands” filled with the powder to be a mail-to insurgent weapon?
      EG: Died of cancer, natural causes. Potentially deadly in the long term. Impossible to distinguish.

  5. I’m more stunned there’s actually any active ingredients in those snake oil products. I figured they would just be a plastic or metal band. Not like anyone who falls for it would ever care or believe it’s fake, right? Why spend the money on thorium?

  6. Probably the radioactive content in these products are result of bad quality control (or rather lack of) of raw material. thrash which is rejected for recycling (maybe because of radioactive content and people would pay to get rid of it) would end up getting ‘upcycled’ in these products.

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