Dr. Kabakjian was emeritus professor of physics at the University of Pennsylvania and renowned for his radioactive chemistry research. He received his Bachelor of Arts degree from Anatolia College in Merzifon, Turkey in 1896 and then served as head teacher at Sivas Normal School. He received the title of professor and taught Armenian language and literature, sometimes also scientific subjects and music. He introduced electric light to Sivas (Sebastia), and his demonstration of it seemed like a miracle to the spectators. He came to the U.S. in 1905 to earn the degrees of Master of Science and Doctor of Philosophy from the University of Pennsylvania. Before coming to America he was professor of physics and chemistry at Sivas Normal School in the Ottoman Empire. He began his teaching career at Penn in 1910 (but listed as a graduate student at Anatolia College in 1911) and held a full professorship in physics from 1924 until his retirement in 1944. He was a pioneer in the field of radioactive chemistry, and pursued the study of natural radioactive elements and the luminescence of pure radium in the laboratory in his home. He developed a process for the purification of radium and made many contributions for academic, commercial and war purposes. He was survived by his widow, Dicranouhi, and five children, Dr. Armen and Dr. Raymond, both physicians, Lillian Z., Mrs. Alice K. Lewis, and Mrs. Louise K. Treichel.
The above is his 1945 obituary, but his story did not end there. From 1915 to 1922, Kabakjian was a consultant for a company which extracted radium from ore at a Lansdowne warehouse on Austin Avenue. Radium was delivered in rail cars behind the buildings. The company closed but as mentioned in the obituary, Dr. Kabakjian then opened his own business for processing radium out of the basement of his Lansdowne home at 105-107 E. Stratford Avenue. The radium was used to produce radioactive needles used in cancer treatments in many local hospitals. Radium was known at the time as a wonder treatment, but what was not known is that it decays and release radon gas, which can cause cancer. Eventually after Kabakjian's death his family sold the home and another family moved in. After quite some time, that family learned a bit about the home's history and had suspicions that the site might be toxic. Testing at the home by the Pennsylvania Department of Health in 1964 showed that it was indeed contaminated. The former Kabakjian residence was cleaned, however it was a split twin home and no attempt to clean up the other half was made. Some time later after the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency, it too investigated the site in the mid-1980s and sampling showed the house still had high radon and gamma radiation levels. The entire duplex was declared a significant health risk. It was during this investigation that the contaminated warehouse was also discovered. Both the former Kabakjian home and the warehouse were declared part of an EPA superfund site and were torn down in 1989. After demolition, the house's components had to be carted away in lead-lined barrels to dispose of them. Nine feet of soil also had to be removed from the declared Superfund site, and the total clean-up cost reached 12 million dollars. The Kabakjian house was the only residential site placed on the EPA's National Priorities List and the first non-federal radiation site cleaned up under Superfund. As a result, the EPA established the precedent for setting radiation levels in residential areas, applying more stringent levels than those set by the Uranium Mill Tailings Radiation Control Act of 1978. As a side note, Dr. Kabakjian died at age 70 of emphysema and a fibrous tissue buildup in his lungs, not known to be directly linked to radium exposure but possibly connected to acid fumes released during the radium refining process.
Dicranouhi Kuledjian Kabakjian
1885–1957 (m. 1911)
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