In Brief

Visitors to the Grand Canyon Museum May Have Been Exposed to Dangerous Radiation

For 18 years, three buckets of uranium ore sat in a museum storage area close to the galleries.

A view of the Grand Canyon (photo courtesy faungg’s Flickstream)

If you visited the Grand Canyon Park Museum in the last 18 years, the chances are you may have been exposed to dangerous radiation. AzCentral reports that three 5-gallon paint buckets “brimming with uranium ore” were stored in a closet near the institution’s taxidermy exhibition.

The uranium was discovered in March 2018 by the teenage son of a park employee who happened to have a Geiger counter with him at the museum.

The news source reports that a Park Service employee, Elston “Swede” Stephenson, sent a rogue email to all Park Service employees on February 4 that described the alleged cover-up as “a top management failure” and warned there may be health consequences. Stephenson is the Grand Canyon’s safety, health, and wellness manager.

“If you were in the Museum Collections Building (2C) between the year 2000 and June 18, 2018, you were ‘exposed’ to uranium by OSHA’s definition,” Stephenson wrote, according to AzCentral. “The radiation readings, at first blush, exceeds (sic) the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s safe limits. […] Identifying who was exposed, and your exposure level, gets tricky and is our next important task.”

It is believed the buckets were there since 2000, when the new museum at the Grand Canyon national park opened. In a later email, Stephenson writes that he had repeatedly asked Park executives to inform the public, but his requests went nowhere. According to reporter Dennis Wagner, the disposal was just as haphazard as the fact that the material was left in the museum for 18 years.  According to Wagner, the technicians who arrived to dispose of the waste “did not have protective clothing, so they purchased dish-washing and gardening gloves from a general store. They then used a broken mop handle to lift the contaminated buckets into a truck.”

The buckets were in a part of the museum that frequently welcomes school children and other groups, and Stephenson is concerned they were all potentially exposed to dangerous levels of radiation. Stephenson says that visiting children could have received radiation dosages in excess of federal safety standards within three seconds, while adults could have suffered dangerous exposure in less than 30 seconds.

The National Park Service has not yet responded to Hyperallergic’s request for comment.

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