The best of EcoWatch, right in your inbox. Sign up for our email newsletter!
Grand Canyon Visitors Were Exposed to Unsafe Radiation From Buckets of Uranium for Nearly Two Decades
That's because, until last year, three five-gallon paint buckets filled with uranium ore were stored in the building, according to a Feb. 4 email sent out to all National Park Service employees by Grand Canyon safety, health and wellness manager Elston "Swede" Stephenson.
"If you were in the Museum Collections Building (2C) between the year 2000 and June 18, 2018, you were 'exposed' to uranium by the [Occupational Safety and Health Administration] OSHA's definition," Stephenson wrote. "The radiation readings, at first blush, exceeds (sic) the Nuclear Regulatory Commission's safe limits."
Stephenson said the buckets had been placed beside a taxidermy exhibit where children sometimes sat during tours for more than 30 minutes. There was enough radiation in the buckets to expose children to levels considered unsafe by federal standards within three seconds and adults within less than 30 seconds. Stephenson said adults may have been exposed to 400 times the Nuclear Regulatory Commission health limit and children 4,000 times.
Stephenson said that while federal officials had learned of and removed the containers last year, park visitors and staff had not been informed of the potential exposure.
"Respectfully, it was not only immoral not to let Our People know," he wrote in a separate email to Acting Interior Secretary David Bernhardt and Deputy Inspector General Mary Kendall sent Feb. 11, "but I could not longer risk my (health and safety) certification by letting this go any longer."
The museum collections building where the buckets were stored has around 1,000 visitors every year, News.com.au reported.
Grand Canyon public affairs specialist Emily Davis told AZCentral that the National Park Service was working with OSHA and the Arizona Department of Health Services to investigate the issue. She said that a recent sweep of the building had uncovered only normal, background radiation.
"There is no current risk to the park employees or public," Davis said.
Here is a rough timeline of the incident, according to Stephenson's account, as reported by AZCentral.
- 2000: The museum collection building opens and the buckets are moved from a basement to the new building.
- March, 2018: The hazard is discovered when the teenage son of a park employee brings a Geiger counter to the room where the buckets are stored; the buckets are moved to another part of the building.
- Early June, 2018: Park employees tell Stephenson about the uranium while he is helping with a safety audit, and he calls a National Parks specialist.
- June 18, 2018: Technicians arrive at the Grand Canyon and remove the buckets. They do not show Stephenson the results of their readings and dump the uranium in Orphan Mine, an old uranium mine near the Grand Canyon.
- November 2018: Stephenson files a report with OSHA; OSHA inspectors come to the museum building and discover the empty buckets still on the site.
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
By Erica Cirino
Visit a coral reef off the coast of Miami or the Maldives and you may see fields of bleached white instead of a burst of colors.
By Jason Bittel
High up in the mountains of Montana's Glacier National Park, there are two species of insect that only a fly fishermen or entomologist would probably recognize. Known as stoneflies, these aquatic bugs are similar to dragonflies and mayflies in that they spend part of their lives underwater before emerging onto the land, where they transform into winged adults less than a half inch long. However, unlike those other species, stoneflies do their thing only where cold, clean waters flow.
By Bob Curley
- The new chicken sandwiches at McDonald's, Popeyes, and Chick-fil-A all contain the MSG flavor enhancement chemical.
- Experts say MSG can enhance the so-called umami flavor of a food.
- The ingredient is found in everything from Chinese food and pizza to prepackaged sandwiches and table sauces.
McDonald's wants to get in on the chicken sandwich war currently being waged between Popeyes and Chick-fil-A.
By Andrea Germanos
Youth climate activists marched through the streets of Davos, Switzerland Friday as the World Economic Forum wrapped up in a Fridays for Future demonstration underscoring their demand that the global elite act swiftly to tackle the climate emergency.
By Tim Radford
The year is less than four weeks old, but scientists already know that carbon dioxide emissions will continue to head upwards — as they have every year since measurements began — leading to a continuation of the Earth's rising heat.