Picture Archive: Radioactive Fountain in Budapest, 1937

A radium-laced spa in Budapest provided one of history's more questionable quaffs.

New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg wants all sugared drinks sold in Gotham to be 16 ounces (0.5 liters) or less. To that end, he's proposed a citywide Portion Cap Rule. Last week, however, Manhattan Supreme Court Judge Milton Tingling ruled that a city's leaders don't get that kind of nutritional say so.

Tingling called the rule "capricious," since it includes, for example, delis and bodegas but not grocery stores and 7-Elevens. Coffee shops—where people are largely left to sweeten on their own—are left out altogether.

"[The Portion Cap Rule] applies to some but not all food establishments in the City," Tingling wrote. "It excludes other beverages that have significantly higher concentrations of sugar sweeteners and/or calories on suspect grounds." The judge also cited loopholes "including but not limited to limitations on re-fills."

Bloomberg considers the Portion Cap Rule a decisive salvo in the war on obesity and plans to appeal.

Historically speaking, though, sugar isn't the only beverage ingredient of questionable health value.

In this 1937 photo by Rudolf Balogh, a woman in Budapest, Hungary, sips at the Juventis Fountain at Rudas Baths.

"The water is said to contain Radium," read the photographer's notes on the back of the photo. "One cent per drink or per flask to take away. Illuminated at night."

Today the thermal baths are still open and advertise "radio-active hot spring water with calcium-magnesium-hydrogen-carbonate also containing sodium and sulfate and with a significant content of fluoride ions." Taking the waters—by cup or by soak—is a suggested therapy for degenerative joint diseases, arthritis, herniated discs, and neuralgia.

Marie Curie, who had successfully isolated radium in 1910 (after working on the project since before the turn of the century), died just three years before this photo was taken of aplastic anemia—a result of prolonged exposure to radiation.

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