Bookchin, 1962 (x-ray epilation)

Title: Our Synthetic Environment

Authors: Bookchin, Murray (under the pseudonym Lewis Herber)

Publisher: New York: Knopf (1962) / HarperCollins (paper)

ASIN: 0060903635 (Currently out of print: available online at: Anarchist Archives)

This book is by one of my favorite activists. Bookchin discusses x-ray epilation in these excerpts from Chapter 6, Radiation and Human Health. I believe there are certain analogies to the use of lasers and microwaves by unqualified personnel in an unregulated environment.

“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.”

“Society has found it very difficult to accept the fact that a valuable device can become extremely dangerous if it is used improperly. Schubert and Lapp observe that a major reason why Geyser was not stopped until his “system” had injured a large number of women is that the medical community generally accepted radiation as a form of treatment for minor skin disorders. To this day, many physicians are likely to underestimate the amount of latent damage caused by repeated exposure to X radiation. In some cases, physicians are inclined to use X-ray equipment as freely as they use the stethoscope, and often it is the cost of an X-ray picture rather than the ‘risk of irradiation that keeps the two devices from occupying places of equal importance in routine medical examinations. The physician often feels that there is no danger involved in taking diagnostic X rays; the word “diagnostic” seems to impart benign qualities to radiation. But the need for an X ray does not in any way diminish the effect of exposure; it merely provides a scale on which the hazards of X radiation should be weighed against the hazards of an incomplete and faulty diagnosis.”

“The use of X-ray equipment should be carefully regulated. These devices do not belong in the hands of quacks and shoe salesmen. Technicians should be licensed personnel who have given substantial evidence of their qualifications to operate X-ray equipment. Their work requires careful training that cannot be picked up through irregular, offhand instruction. There should be compulsory periodic inspections of X-ray equipment by competent agencies. Concerted efforts must be made to bring the latest advances in radiology into physicians’ offices and hospitals.”

Purchasing info

Our Synthetic Environment