Were Visitors to the Grand Canyon Exposed to Radiation?April 3, 2019
Over the past two decades, visitors to the Grand Canyon—as well as employees—could have been exposed to significant levels of radiation exposure from uranium ore stored at the national park’s museum. Elston Stephenson, the safety, health and wellness manager at the Grand Canyon National Park told CNN that last summer he began asking park officials as well as officials from the Department of Interior to warn tourists and workers about possible radiation exposure. Stephenson felt that anyone who was in Building C—the Museum Collections Building between 2000 and June 18th, 2018 (when the uranium ore was removed) could have suffered radiation exposure according to OSHA’s definition of “exposure.”
Email Sent to Park Employees
After Stephenson’s requests were repeatedly ignored, he sent an email to all park employees on February 4, 2019, warning them of their potential Grand Canyon radiation exposure. In the email Stephenson stated that while he was not telling those workers they would have radiation injury related to the exposure or that they were in any way “contaminated,” he was simply telling them there was uranium on the site and they were in its presence. Following Stephenson’s email, the National Park Service launched an investigation, working hand in hand with OSHA and the Arizona Department of Health Services.
Officials Downplay Radiation Exposure
The Department of the Interior—who oversee the park service—provided a statement to CNN which essentially stated there was no current risk to the public or to employees of the Grand Canyon Park. In the statement the Department reminded the public that uranium occurs naturally in the rocks of the Park, and that “background levels” were always present in the environment, albeit below levels high enough to trigger a concern for the safety and health of the public. Despite these reassurances, OSHA (who governs workplace injuries) sent their inspectors—in protective suits—to check the levels of radiation at the Park. A spokesman for the Grand Canyon National Park assured the public that the museum collection facility is currently open and employee work routines continue as usual.
Three Buckets of Uranium Ore Returned to Uranium Mine
In early June, Stephenson found the three five-gallon buckets of uranium ore which had been stored in the museum next to a taxidermy exhibit for almost twenty years. He immediately contacted a radiation specialist from the park service to report the buckets of uranium, and, upon testing, the specialist found elevated radiation levels—perhaps even high enough to lead to radiation injury. The buckets of uranium ore were disposed of at the Lost Orphan uranium mine. While the park workers who removed the buckets wore gloves and used mop handles to lift the buckets, Stephenson feels the workers were inadequately protected or prepared to remove the uranium ore, also noting that tours of schoolchildren often walked by the buckets of uranium ore while on Park tours.
Radiation Injury from Radiation Exposure
Radiation injury can occur when high-energy radiation goes through the body, reaching the internal organs. Typically, it takes a significant amount of radiation to cause serious injury. Radiation amounts are measured in sieverts. Radiation injury or sickness does not typically manifest in symptoms until a person is exposed to 500 millisieverts (half a sievert). Most of us are routinely exposed to about 3 mSv from natural radiation in air and water each year. Several x-rays deliver about 10 mSv. Those working in the nuclear industry cannot be exposed to more than 50 mSv per year, for comparison’s sake. The most common early symptoms of radiation sickness are much the same as for a wide array of other illnesses—nausea, vomiting and diarrhea. It remains to be seen whether park employees—who were routinely in range of the uranium ore—or visitors to the park (particularly children) will suffer any ill effects from the radiation exposure.
Helping Clients Who Suffered Radiation Exposure at the Grand Canyon Museum
Should it turn out that both Park employees as well as visitors to the Grand Canyon Museum received unacceptable levels of radiation exposure, the litigation regarding that exposure could drag on for years. USClaims can help your clients pay their medical expenses related to radiation injury as well as their regular monthly expenses in anticipation of a court judgment or settlement. Contact USClaims by calling 1-877-USCLAIMS today for the help and information both you and your client need and deserve.