For nearly two decades the Grand Canyon National Park museum exposed tourists, employees, and children on tours to highly radioactive uranium that was up to 4,000 times safe levels, a Park employee exposed.
High-level Park Service officials formed a “secrecy pact” to cover up the fact that three large drums of uranium had been stored in the Grand Canyon’s museum building for 18 years, exposing everyone who got close to dangerous levels of radiation, National Park Service safety, health, and wellness manager Elston “Swede” Stephenson claims, according to William Flannigan, AZ Central.
In a rogue email sent to all Park Service employees on Feb. 4, Stephenson described the alleged cover-up as “a top management failure” and warned of possible health consequences.
“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. “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.”
“Respectfully, it was not only immoral not to let Our People know, but I could not longer risk my (health and safety) certification by letting this go any longer,” Stephenson wrote in an apologetic email to senior Park Service officials, a week after he blew the whistle on the uranium cover-up in an email to all Park Service employees, informing them they had been exposed to possibly unsafe levels of radiation.
Stephenson said the containers were stored next to a taxidermy exhibit, where children on tours sometimes stopped for presentations, sitting next to uranium for 30 minutes or more. By his calculation, those children could have received radiation dosages in excess of federal safety standards within three seconds, and adults could have suffered dangerous exposure in less than a half-minute.
Federal officials learned last year that three five-gallon buckets stored in the Grand Canyon’s museum building were literally overflowing with highly-radioactive uranium ore. The buckets were moved to the museum building when it opened in 2000 and were so full of the ore one literally wouldn’t close. They were stored near a taxidermy exhibit where, Stephenson says, children often stopped on tours for presentations, exceeding federal safety standards of radiation exposure within three seconds of standing next to the drums. Even adults, he said, could only stand near the drums for half a minute before accumulating unsafe levels of radiation.
The radioactive hoard was discovered by a teenager with a Geiger counter during a museum tour and promptly swept under the rug, Stephenson says, adding that technicians dumped the ore into an old mine near Grand Canyon Village, concealing their meter readings from him the entire time they were cleaning up the radioactive mess.
Alarmed at their unprofessional behavior, he called in the Occupational Health and Safety Administration, who found only the empty drums – which had been “inexplicably returned to the building” and still gave off faint radiation readings.
Public affairs specialist Emily Davis claims there is “no current risk to the park employees or public,” but admits the uranium has since been removed, and declined to address the rest of Stephenson’s allegations when contacted by the Arizona Republic.
AZ Central reports:
Emily Davis, a public affairs specialist at the Grand Canyon, said the Park Service is coordinating an investigation with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration and the Arizona Department of Health Services.
Davis stressed that a recent review of the building in question uncovered only background radiation, which is natural in the area and is safe.
“There is no current risk to the park employees or public,” Davis said. “The building is open. … The information I have is that the rocks were removed, and there’s no danger.”
Davis declined to address Stephenson’s assertion that thousands of people may have been exposed to dangerous levels of radiation, or his allegation that the Park Service violated the law by not issuing a public warning.
“We do take our public and employee safety and allegations seriously,” she said.
Photos/Videos: AZ Central