A whistleblower at Grand Canyon National Park has made a startling disclosure in what the Arizona Republic calls a "rogue" email: Three 5-gallon paint buckets of uranium ore were stored for 18 years in one of the park's buildings, possibly exposing tourists and workers to radiation. In a Feb. 4 message sent to all NPS employees, park safety chief Elston Stephenson says the uranium specimens, previously kept in the cellar at park HQ, were moved to the museum collections building in 2000, where they remained until June 2018. "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." He notes that the teen son of a park employee discovered the radiation threat when he brought his Geiger counter on a visit in March; Stephenson found out about it a few months later.
Newsweek notes we're naturally exposed to small amounts of radiation every day. But Stephenson says that the containers were kept near a taxidermy exhibit that kids often sat near during presentations, which could go on for more than half an hour—meaning they could've been blasted with up to 4,000 times what's considered safe exposure. Stephenson says the ore was dumped by NPS specialists into a nearby mine in June (though, he adds, they inexplicably brought the buckets back to the museum collections building). He says park management tried to cover up the story, and that it's "immoral" not to get the word out. A rep says the NPS is working with OSHA and Arizona's health services department to get to the bottom of things. "There is no current risk to the park employees or public," she says. (Read more Grand Canyon stories.)